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Human Rights

Human Rights On December tenth 1948 in the Palis de Chaillot in Paris, the United Nation’s General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The document is made up of thirty articles which deal with a series of basic human rights and duties. It follows the premise that ” the declaration is a common standard of achievement for all peoples and nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the people of member states themselves and among the people of territories under their jurisdiction.”[3] However this is not always the case, infraction to the human rights code are all too often practiced, today as much as 50 years ago. War crimes in the former Yugoslavia, terrorist acts in the Gaza strip, Political prisoners in China, the disappercidos of Chile and Argentina, female genital mutilation in orthodox Muslim communities are all too common. However the message this document stands for is one for the universality of man and woman kind alike.

It tells of such basic rights as freedom and life that are owed to every human being regardless of the language she speaks. They are inalienable in the fact that human rights have no boundary and are sovereign to no king or state. Shue seems to disagree with this, since in describing the comparative advantage theory of government he mentions that “each nation’s own government (or other social institutions) are best able to care for the welfare of the people of that nation..”[6] This latest theory provides some backing for ‘cultural soveirgnty’, however it does so by demeaning the universality of human rights, and is therefore unacceptable with what I’m choosing as a moral standpoint. As I mentioned human rights start with the basics (freedom, life) and develop further into the right of peaceful assembly and the right to education. “Perhaps the most obvious thing to be said about rights is that they are constitutive of the domain of entitlements.

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They help to define and serve to protect those things concerning which one can make a very special kind of claim – a claim of right. To claim or to acquire anything as a matter of right is crucially different from seeking or obtaining it as through grant or privilege, the receipt of a favor, or the presence of a permission. To have a right to something is, typically, to be entitled to receive or posses or enjoy it now, and to do so without securing the consent of another. As long as one has a right to anything, it is beyond the reach of another properly to withhold or deny it. In addition, to have a right is to be absolved from the obligation to weigh a variety of what would in other contexts be relevant considerations; it is to be entitled to the object of the right … without anymore ado.

To have a right to anything is, in short, to have a very strong moral or legal claim upon it. It is the strongest kind of claim that there is.”[9 pp48] Cultural Rights Against Individual Rights As explained above human rights are of an essential nature for the benefit of man and woman kind alike. It is on the base of this necessity that I consider cultural rights as an attack against human rights. Cultural rights have been proposed as a mean to the object of cultural preservation. It is questionable weather the preservation of culture for the benefit of the individual is more valuable than that individual’s claim to his/her natural rights. Once again the argument of the right to exit comes up.

If an individual has the option to leave than no injustice is forced upon him or her. This philosophy is erroneous on multiple levels. For starters if something is essentially wrong, and any action to violate natural rights is, then there can be no rationalizing it . Second, if the value of culture is as deep as cultural activists say it is (this I don’t intend to argue) then it is obvious that to leave ones culture can be a devastating experience (this is the only point where my views are separate from Hartney’s, he considers exit from a culture a relieving occurrence, I obviously disagree out of personal experience) . A cultural bond is often interlinked to family and friends and leaving the culture would provide freedom in a desert of social solitude.

Further we must consider that around the world there are many society were the financial means of exit are not accessible to the majority of individual. And as a final critique of the afore mentioned theory there is the possibility of a lack of option or even knowledge . A person granted with the right to leave might not have any other culture or faith available to him/her to be adopted into, or the lack of knowledge prevents him/her from making an educated choice or in some cases from even knowing that his/her rights were being infringed upon. After pointing out the necessity for cultural preservation and having exposed the inconsistency between cultural and human rights we must now decide if there is any way to mate the two such as to find an happy medium. One could forward the idea that human rights come in a certain order ant that is not coincidental that the basic natural rights come before one’s right to culture and assembly. However this would be a low-grade simplistic approach.

I prefer to tackle the problem drawing a parallel out of Hartney’s theory. He supports a theory of ‘value-individualism’ where by all goods are good because they contribute to the well being of individual human beings. Further he states that “If we assume that communities are valuable and ought to be protected, the next issue is weather this protection can, or should, take the form of rights. This issue involves two sets of distinctions between moral and legal rights ..(and) the debate about collective rights is flawed by a failure to discuss each kind of right separately. The second distinction is that between the conceptual question weather rights moral or legal can ever inhere in collectives, and the substantive question weather the protection of communities requires that they be endowed with rights.” [10] A legal rights implies that the law has forced a criteria to be followed, while a moral right implies that there is an individual good to be respected.

The law has a tendency of dealing with groups as single entities, therefore any legal rights bestowed by a government onto a group would not be of a collective nature. Further all claims to any group moral rights that may seem to prevail over individual rights, when analyzed, boil down to a statement of individual rights, with the attempt of administering them via a group entity. “Individual rights require governments to refrain from interfering in people’s lives, while group rights require them to provide services.”[10] In conclusion I would like to say there is no justification for moral rights to be granted to groups. However cultures are to preserved as a value for the individual, and if legal rights (the only type of rights available to groups) are to be granted to do so then provisions need to be taken to point out that legal rights as issuance’s of the government, cannot interfere with the greater cause of Human Rights. Bibliography 1. Darlene Johnston, ‘Native Rights as Collective Rights: A Question of Group Self-Preservation’, Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, Vol.

2/1 (1989), pp. 19-34. 2. Chandran Kukathas, ‘Are There Any Cultural Rights?’, Political Theory, Vol.20 (1992), pp.105-139 3. 1948 General Assembly of United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Adopted on Dec. 10th at the Palais de Chaillot, Paris.

4. Goeffrey Brennan and Loren Lomasky, Politics and Process, Cambridge University Press, 1989. 5. Carole Pateman, The Problem of Political Obligation, University of California Press, 1985. 6. Henry Shue, Basic Rights, Princeton University Press, 1979.

7. Joel Feinberg, Rights,Justice, and the Bounds of Liberty, Princeton University Press,1980 8. Alan Gewirth, Human Rights, The University of Chicago Press, 1982 9. David Lyons, Rights, Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1979 10. Michael Hartney, ‘Some Confusion Concerning Collective Rights’, Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, Vol. 4/2 (1991), pp.


Human Rights

I agree that human rights do not lend themselves to neat formulae. The Universal Declaration of
Human Rights (UDHR) aims at guarding the interest of people residing in different countries. However, the
political and cultural environment of a country would shape these rights. Some of the rights the essay
would be discussing are the equality of the sexes, right to freedom of speech and education.

Contrary to the West, women in Asia are often exploited and deprived of their rights in many
areas, particularly in employment. This phenomenon can be attributed to the tradition and cultural
differences between the two. Despite the influence of the west brought about by industrialization, the Asian
Society is still rather conservative and very much in touch with the teachings of Confucius. Even till today,
they are unable to completely abandon the concept of women being the weaker sex. Although the UDHR
proclaims, “Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.” (UN, 1948,
Article 23 (2)), it is not uncommon to hear that women are paid lower than men are. Women accept the fact
that they are weaker as compared to men in terms of work in this male dominated society. They are taught
to be submissive and regard their family as the top most priority in their childhood. Moreover, employers
believe that women are home bounded and contributions to t!
he company would be minimal as they work fewer days, in comparison to men, due to the entitlement of
their maternity leaves. In the eyes of the west, this would be a violation of human rights but to an Asian, a
cultural difference.
“Everyone has the right to education.” (UN, 1948, Article 26 (1)) does not hold in Asian context.
Every American child is endowing with the right of education but receiving education is a form of luxury
to the unfortunate Asian children. Most Asian countries are agricultural based and children are view as
helping hands in the fields. Hence, children below the age of ten are often seen helping in the fields.
Agrarian societies are generally poor parents are more concern with earning enough money to feed the
family than paying for their children’s education. Although the United Nations emphasize the importance of
education and stress that “Education shall be free,” (UN, 1948), these countries have no means of
providing education as a free good. Families that are better off would send only the males to school, as they
believe that males have to provide for the family in future. Girls are thought to be a burden to the family
and would eventually marry off, hence, educating them !
would not be economical to the family. The US is able to provide free education because of its strong
economic foundation after years of development. Hence, it would not be fair to accuse the east of being a
violator of rights for not providing education as a public good to its people because they simply cannot
afford it; education comes after development. This statement manifest in the following extract, “In the
developed countries, universal primary education and literacy came after the process of development as
well on its way.” (Kamla Bahsin, Literacy for Women, Why and How!).

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“Many governments are inclined to define human rights in the manner most convenient to suiting
their own political interests.” (Boutros Butros Ghali, 1993). The definition to “freedom of speech” is highly
debatable. The differences in political environment between Singapore and the US have cast different
viewpoints on this contention. Singapore takes a firm stand in this issue and will hold the speaker
responsible for what he declares. The government clamps down on remarks that promote civil unrest such
as those of religious and racial issues. Many countries see this as under-mining of the UDHR but this
restriction is necessary for the survival of Singapore. Without it, a multiracial society in Singapore would
collapse and the consequences, civil unrest and eventually civil war.
No doubt that countries are obliged to uphold the UDHR, certain diversities should be tolerated as most
countries are “endowed with ancient and sophisticated cultures” (Alatas, 1993) which may differ from one
another. Thus, the international community must take into consideration the country’s traditions, social
values and political environment before ostracizing them. In conclusion, I agree that human rights do not
lend themselves to neat formulae and a pragmatic approach to it is necessary.


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