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International Human Rights

Reading notes
What role did the enlightenment, industrialization, and socialism have in
shaping our conceptions of human rights?
Concept of human rights

Human rights literally the rights one has simply because one is a
human being
The real value of a right is the special entitlement it gives one to press
rights-claims if enjoyment of the object of the right is threatened or
Having a right is therefore of most value precisely when one does not
have the object of the right (when one is denied of that right)
In a world of saints, rights would be widely accepted and rarely enforce
It is always preferable not to have to use ones rights
It is also preferable to be able to have ones rights effectively enforced,
when necessary
Human rights = moral rights
However, they are usually related to the struggle to establish such
Special function of human rights virtually requires that they be claimed
precisely when they are unenforceable by ordinary legal or political
Claims of human rights are the final resort in the realm of rights; no
higher rights appeal is available
Rights are put to use only when things are not going well
One claims a human right in the hope of ultimately creating a society
in such claims will no longer be necessary
Where human rights are protected, we continue to have human rights,
but there is no need to use them
Human rights claims are extralegal: their principal aim is to challenge
or change existing institutions, practices, or norms, especially legal
institutions (i.e. American declaration of Independence)
Giving effective legal force to these rights is the ultimate aim of the
struggle for human rights
When human rights are made justiciable, those whose rights are
violated will usually claim legal, not human rights
Human rights are a standard of political legitimacy; to the extent that
governments protect human rights
Universal Declaration of human rights says that human rights are a
standard of achievement for all people and all nations
They empower citizens to act to vindicate these rights; to insist,
through the exercised of their rights, that these standards be realized


These demands may be addressed to ones own government
Human rights claims do imply a claim that one ought to have a legal
right to the object in question
That one must claim human rights means that fundamental social
changes are required
But to claim a human right is to claim a human right one already has
The real strength of human rights is that they are available precisely
when claims of legal and other lower rights fail
Human rights ground moral claims on the political system to
strengthen or add to existing legal entitlements
This does not make human rights stronger or weaker than legal rights;
just different
The very term human points to a source: humanity, human nature,
being a person or human being
Human rights have humanity or human nature as their source
Needs establish human rights (Bay, 1982: 67)
To understand the source of human rights, we must turn to philosophy
science alone will not do
Source of human rights is mans moral nature
Human rights are needed not for life but for a life of dignity
As the International Human Rights Covenants put it, human rights arise
from the inherent dignity of the human person
Violations of human rights deny ones humanity; they do not
necessarily keep one from satisfying ones needs
They are needed for a life worthy of being a human being, a life that
cannot be enjoyed without these rights
Human rights point the way to progressive development
Treat a person like a human being and youll get a human being
Human rights shape political society, so as to shape human beings, so
as to realize the possibilities of human nature, which provided the basis
for these rights in the first place
The very ideas of respecting and violating human rights rest on the
idea of the individual as part of a larger community and social
The purpose of government and society is to protect natural rights
The principal function of human rights is to shape social relations
Human rights are only held by the INDIVIDUAL, not by groups or
At minimum, people must be alive. This requires survival rights; such
as the rights to life and to food.
If this survival is to be more than brutish, it requires economic and
social rights, such as the right to health care and social insurance

To be treated with concern and respect, a human being must first be

recognized as a person and a member of society
Any particular list of human rights is a list of the principal standard
threats to human dignity in a given era
Unless there is a pervasive threat to human dignity, there is no need to
recognize a right
Our list of human rights has evolved and expanded, and will continue
to do so, in response to such factors as changing ideas of human
dignity, the rise of new political forces, technological changes, new
techniques of repression, etc.
It was only with the rise of the working class as an effective political
force that the idea of economic and social rights began to make real
Such political changes were also associated with new idea on the
meaning of and conditions necessary for a life of dignity new
understandings provoked by the social and economic devastation of
early industrialization and with the changing ideas of who the
subjects of human rights were, particularly the growing insistence that
the propertyless were entitled to all the same rights as the propertied
List of human rights emerge out of the political struggle for human

Non-Western Conceptions of Human Rights

Human rights are not a western discovery

All societies have human rights notions
The concept of human rights can be traced to the origin of the human
race itself
Human rights derive from the inherent dignity of the human person
An understanding of human dignity that sees each person as an equal
and valuable human being endowed with certain inalienable rights
Human rights represent a distinctive set of social practices that initially
arose in the modern West in response to the social and political
changes produced by modern states and modern capitalist market


The Enlightenment a revolutionary change in human thought as for

the first time a secular and relatively more egalitarian approach to
universal morality emerged in Europe and spread throughout the world

Collapse of Roman Catholicism opened up room for the emergence of

humanist thought
Embrace of religious freedom and freedom of opinion in general
Modern concept of nation-state came about, justified by its protection
of natural and individual rights
Free markets based on individuals right to private property
Merciless and arbitrary killings that religious traditions allowed were
now confronted with laws based on the individuals right to life
Even warfare must conform to universal standards of justice
Current human rights debates can be best understood as an extension
of Enlightenment arguments that date back to the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries
Just like back then, we are wondering whether the state is the best
mechanism to defend basic rights
We are still questioning whether free markets are the best way to
promote democratic institutions and global peace, and under which
conditions one may justly wage war
Our modern conception of human rights originated in Europe and
America, so the story of their inception is rooted in the political,
economic, and technological changes associated with the rise of the
West and the relative decline of rival civilizations
These changes include the development of modern science, the rise of
mercantilism, the great voyages of discovery, and the rise of the
middle class as a powerful source of revolutionary change
These developments laid the foundations for four great historical
events in the Western world: the Reformation and the English,
American, and French Revolutions
That vision today remains triumphant, although not uncontested,
throughout the west
Liberal worldview first emerged out of the struggle for freedom of
religion and opinion that began with the REFORMATION
The Reformation layed the groundwork for subsequent claims for a
universal right to life (including calls for the abolition of torture and the
death penalty)
Also established the right to property
A political struggle went underway to develop effective means to
promote the rights they championed
There were limitations to early liberal thought, including the exclusion
of women, the propertyless, blacks, colonized people, homosexuals,
Jews, and other nationalities