Human rights – NOTE

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Human rights (natural rights) are rights which some hold to be “inalienable” and belonging to all humans; according to natural law. Such rights are believed, by proponents, to be necessary for freedom and the maintenance of a “reasonablequality of life.

Inalienable rights cannot be bestowed, granted, limited, bartered away, or sold away (eg, one cannot sell oneself intoslavery). Inalienable rights can only be secured or violated.

Human rights can be divided into two categories; positive and negative human rights. Every negative human right can be expressed as a positive human right, but not vice versa. For example, the right of a newborn to a caring parent can only be expressed positively.


Universal Declaration of Human Rights

In 1948 the United Nations made the above declaration [1], which was an over-arching set of standards by which Governments, organisations and individuals would measure their behaviour towards each other.

This Declaration introduced the notion in the public realm that rights had a moral dimension, independent of and overriding where relevant the legislature or government which granted specific legal rights. The notion was not new, e.g. Thomas Paine had argued in this way in his book The Rights of Man.

Other general Declarations have followed, notably the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 [2].

Origins of Rights

Positive human rights follow mainly from the Rousseauian Continental legal tradition, and are things to which every person is entitled and for which every state is obligated. Examples of such rights (not all are universally agreed upon) include: the rights to education, to a livelihood, to private property, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and legalequality. Positive rights have been codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in many 20th centuryconstitutions.

Negative human rights follow mainly from the Anglo-American legal tradition, and are rights which denote actions that a government should not take. These are codified in the United States Bill of Rights and the English Bill of Rights and include freedoms of speech, religion and assembly.

There are a number of theories of where rights come from. The theory espoused by the US Declaration of Independenceand ingrained in Anglo-American legal thought is that rights arise from natural law. This theory is considered antiquated in moral philosophy.

There are a number of controversies regarding human rights. One is what rights are included as fundamental human rights, or even if there is such a thing. Another controversy is how best to enforce human rights and in particular the relationship between human rights and national sovereignty. One point of view is that human rights are universal and therefore it is proper for any national to attempt to enforce human rights through international courts or domestic law. The opposing view is that having human rights override national sovereignty is a form of imperialism in which powerful countries dictate which rights they consider most important against less powerful countries.

Modern Liberal Definition of Human Rights

Within modern liberal political cultures, basic human rights are defined as those which can be upheld in a society which follows two basic rules:

  • All individuals should be allowed to act in any way they choose providing that in doing so they do not prohibit other individuals from that same privilege.
  • All individuals must take responsibility for the repercussions of their actions.

Unfortunately, extremism of various kinds creates difficulty for this by either not recognising rights in general, or simply overriding some rights to promote its own view. Universalism in rights therefore seems to presupposeliberalism, a tolerant and non-extreme approach. However, this is somewhat paradoxical: how are we to limit the freedom of those who do not recognise other’s rights?

Isaiah Berlin, the champion of liberalism, once said: “Total liberty can be dreadful, total equality can be equally frightful.”

Hate Crimes Laws

With the advent of the concept of human rights, various countries have attempted to enact laws against what are called hate crimes. A hate crime is defined as a crime committed with direct influence by the minority status of the victim. A hate crime law would bring greater penalty to the perpetrator based on the hateful intent.

Conservatives in the United States often oppose hate crime laws, stating that imposing a greater penalty on an act committed in hate would thus make hating illegal. They feel this to be a direct infringement on First Amendmentrights.

Liberals often support hate crime laws, stating that by enacting them individuals would face greater discouragement from committing hate crimes. They also point out that all laws are subjective, and that if society can determine that one crime deserves more punishment than another (ie: murder vs. involuntary manslaughter) then it can also determine what motivations deserve harsher punishments.

Human Rights Organizations

See also

External links