First Generation Human Rights vs. Second Generation Human Rights

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In her article, “The International Law of Human Rights,” Debra DeLaet explains that the United Nations differentiates between civil and political rights (first generation rights), and economic, social and cultural rights (second generation rights). While both sets of rights are vital to ensure basic human rights in any society, second generation rights are more essential in enabling people to lead dignified lives. At least some version of first generation rights are guaranteed to citizens of most democratic societies. In contrast, economic, social and cultural rights – although fundamental to individual dignity and well-being – are not applied equally without discrimination in even the most affluent democracies like the United States, which purports to uphold human rights. Without these basic economic, social and cultural rights, societies cannot uphold freedom and equality for all. One reason why economic, social and cultural rights should take precedence over civil and political rights is because without second generation rights, first generation rights are essentially useless. First generation rights are more specific in nature and are targeted towards individual members of society, rather than society as a whole. Second generation rights address more universal needs that everyone in a given society should be guaranteed in order to live with basic dignity. If one compares the list of first generation rights to that of second generation rights, the former seem to presume the context of a free, democratic and capitalist society. In order for these types of rights to have any value, they must exist in a state that already recognizes the freedom and equality of all its citizens, and that guarantees their basic human, cultural and social needs are met. That is to say that they are free to practice their cultural traditions, to receive equal education, to be able to earn a living, to have access to basic healthcare, food and water, etc. This is not the case in...
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