The Importance of Humans Rights

Topics: Human rights, Law, Universal Declaration of Human Rights Pages: 13 (5015 words) Published: September 19, 2013
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Human rights are almost a form of religion in today's world. They are the great ethical yardstick that is used to measure a government's treatment of its people. A broad consensus has emerged in the twentieth century on rhetoric that frames judgment of nations against an international moral code prescribing certain benefits and treatment for all humans simply because they are human. Within many nations political debates rage over the denial or abuse of human rights. Even in prosperous, democratic countries like Canada much public discourse is phrased in the rhetoric of rights. Legal documents to protect human rights have proliferated in Canada, culminating in the 1982 entrenchment of the Charter of Rights in the Constitution. Especially since the advent of the Charter, many Canadians have claimed that particular benefits they desire are a matter of human rights and must be provided. Indeed, the claim that the desired benefit is a human right is often meant to undercut any opposition as unprincipled or even immoral. Lost in much of the discussion is any justification for the high moral grounded occupied by human rights. Most political activists and commentators are content just to look at the United Nations' ever-growing body of human rights agreements as proof that these rights exist universally and therefore have to be respected by everyone. Domestic human rights legislation represents the local implementation of internationally-recognized rights that are universal and inalienable. Unfortunately, human rights are far more complicated phenomena than that.  Any inquiry into the origin, nature, and content of human rights reveals tremendous conceptual hurdles that need to be overcome before one can accept their pre-eminent authority. Indeed, many argue that the problems encountered in this analysis demonstrate that human "rights" are a misnomer, and that the rhetoric of human rights is really a description of ideals - and a controversial set of ideals at that.   

The nature of human rights is complicated even beyond the controversy over their source or who may hold them. A critical debate continues over what is meant by human rights. The universality and inalienability of a human right depends to a large extent on the character of the `right' involved. It is necessary first of all to distinguish between the adjectival use of the word `right', which means good or proper, from the substantive `a right', which is a special, possessable benefit. Not everything which is right (good) is a right, although many people mistakenly inflate the concept of a right by asserting benefits they believe are `right' to be `rights'. This confusion has become evident in the assertion of what are known as `second-generation human rights' - such as the right to economic development and prosperity - and `third generation human rights' - which cover the rights to world peace and a clean environment. While some human rights advocates accept the inclusion of these benefits as rights, others argue that prosperity and peace are `right' but not substantive rights. Even with the substantive term `a right', however, there are several different meanings. In 1919, Wesley Hohfeld laid down a useful set of four distinctive connotations that can be given to the phrase "A has a right to X". ( Perhaps the most common meaning given to this phrase conveys the notion of a claim-right. It is a claim that A has against a correlative duty of another, B; A has a right to X, and B has a duty to let A have or do X. The duty B has may be positive, in the sense that action is required on B's part to allow A to enjoy X; if A has a right to health care, B has a duty to provide it. There may also be a negative duty, in the...
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