Are human rights universally applicable?

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Are all human rights universally applicable?

If this question were posed to the ancient Greek philosopher and pioneer Plato, his response would be something like: “Of course, truth and virtue are universal. They are above of any state law. Not for slaves though.” Since then, slavery has been almost eliminated and several declarations for human rights have been signed in the name of a “better world.” The word ‘applicable’ indicates that this question is highly normative, as none would argue that the president of the United States has, at the moment, the same rights with a woman in Kabul. Some would however argue that ideally that should be the case and this essay will try to illustrate that the history of mankind can be seen simply as the pursuit of this ideal and thus human rights are normatively universal. By taking into consideration the contentions of several philosophers and political theorists on how ‘human rights’ can be defined and adopted by societies, the distinction between natural and positive rights and the way people have been trying to set the fundamental rights of their existence from the beginning of history, it can be depicted that, although this notion has taken many definitions and forms, a ‘natural’ trend is followed in the chase for what Plato would suggest as ‘universal truth and virtue.’

Before proceeding, it should be noted that as this essay is written at a specific point in history, it would not be wise to consider several conventional human rights to be the ideal ones but just some indications of the trend towards the true ideals.

The first aspect of this issue that should be addressed is the context in which the term ‘human rights’ is defined. Political theory has set two different parameters in which philosophers have viewed the nature human rights, as some argue that human rights are ‘positive’ in nature and some that they have a ‘natural,’ and hence universal, character. The former contention suggests that human rights are...
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