The existence of natural human rights has always been contested throughout history. Wars and revolutions that bring about swift and paradigm shifts in political systems and governance have always served to mainstream this idea of human rights. In the modern world, the fast flow and easy accessibility of information (It is worth noting that there exists a vast volume of literature on human rights that is both intriguing and contradictory in nature) make people aware of their rights. These rights, in situations of war or aggressive revolutions, have been neglected. The most grievous of this neglect is assumed by organizations and governments that claim to protect and safeguard these rights. From dictatorships to republics, systems (for instance, the judiciary and human rights) have been put in place to address issues relating to human rights. However, despite all these efforts, atrocities that directly neglect human rights abound. This essay, therefore, attempts to explicate and discuss the concept of human rights and their existence in the modern world.
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Background and Concept
According to Cranston Maurice, the US thirteen states’ proclamation about human rights in the Declaration of Independence (later to be adopted verbatim by the French revolution) depicted the intricate need of human rights to a coherent society. Even though Maurice admits that the concept of human rights and its definition has been changing over time, one common thing about the two is that they chose to adopt a common definition of human rights. For instance, through birth, a man possesses free will and has equal rights with other men. If this is interpreted in a layman’s view, it means that, by virtue of one’s existence, they possess and practice human rights. But looking at how basic human rights are relinquished during wars and revolutions (the recent Arab revolution is the epitome of human rights violations ) casts a gloomy picture on the existence and willingness to respect human rights. What ensued was a tug of war between Arab governments and their citizens on what comprises the most fundamental human rights.
The contest on human rights did not begin in the recent past. It is persistently evident throughout human history from ancient Greek and Rome, through the Renaissance in Europe to the Magna Carta in England and the modern-day constitutions in various states. These two are attempts by humankind to protect human rights. Legal systems in any country today serve to protect and enlighten people about their rights. John Rawls gives us a good and perfect idea about justice. To Rawls, utilitarianism is fundamentally inadequate in addressing justice and human rights. It advocates for a new idea of justice in the context of the social contract eloquently explained and expressed in his work Justice and Fairness.
Since justice and human rights go hand in hand, a review of John Rawl’s (who is a significant philosopher in this regard) work on justice is enlightening. The idea of justice by social contract by Rawl adopts a vast interpretation of basic human rights and liberties. It only gives an exception when it comes to wealth and income distribution; that is if this distribution would merit the less advantaged in society. He, however, perpetually modified his ideologies in his later works like Political Liberalism. The concept of human rights as expressed in Political Liberalism is best understood under the context of modern political and social institutions throughout the world. It is fundamental to note the diversity in distinction and how conflicting and sometimes incompatible doctrines on human rights fit various political systems. This leads to a thorough consideration of human rights concepts in the world today.
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Human Rights Concepts in the Modern World
The concepts of human rights stem from the People’s Republic of China. In the interpretation of human rights, China owes its knowledge from ethical ideas presented by Chinese philosophers like Confucius.
The essential and basic interpretation is presented in two ideas: communitarianism and the key values Ren and Li. These ideas possess some degree of interrelation that is best explained systematically. There exists a community whose existence through history is a fact and an individual who takes a considerable effort to decide and enact how to best blend in the community. This interpretation best welcomes and commends individual interpretations only if they are supportive of the community. Understanding the values of a community, we begin to build our own perceptions of freedoms and rights. Thus, each person’s liberty accommodates his or her life’s desires under the umbrella of the general community. That is the main reason the Chinese are independent of the west. The Chinese human rights are based on the 2,500-year-old Confucian philosophy and expression of ethics and human rights.
The second case covers the Middle East and Muslim states. Islam too has a wide stake in influencing the existence of human rights, especially through Sharia law. The Constitution of Medina put forth by the prophet Mohammed defined communities and their basic human rights. This was a reaction to the opinions of various religious groups on rights and privileges in society. This was further thrown into chaos by the fact that almost all religious groups wanted to dominate in setting the agenda. The Constitution of Medina provided a blueprint as to the interpretation of a wide spectrum of human rights. The prophet Mohammed advocated for the creation of a political or social system whereby every person negotiated his or her human rights` claims and needs. The result was obviously the generation of negotiated rights and not natural rights as explained by philosophers like Confucius and Rawls. Human rights philosophers successfully agree that this endeavor by the prophet Mohammed was an attempt to justify a contractarian approach to justice in an already desperate community.
The final concept, though faced with an ever-increasing opposition, is that conventionally agreed in western countries and westernized societies in general. The idea of forming international organisations like the European Union and the United Nations as monitors of human rights in their places of jurisdiction is a completely westernized ideology. How can one place a common body to view and integrate the ideas of many countries whose political and social systems depict a wide spectrum in their approach to human rights? The most common and universally recognizable trait of westernised view on human rights is in its hegemony.
It is under the western view on human rights that the drafting of universal and international fundamental human rights was depicted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. These rights only come to be stressed and envisioned whenever there is a gruesome and mass human rights violation, bearing in mind that western countries place their interests ahead of the others. However, there has been a declining influence of western superpowers on international human rights conflicts in the past fifty years and the USA is a good example. This fact is owed to paradigm shifts in the conceptualization of Human rights in America, Europe, Africa, and Australia; and, there is no guarantee that the current status quo will prevail.
We cannot speak about human rights in the modern world without including the African continent. It is the only place that has seen and experienced the utter grief and abuse of human rights. This neglect and abuse of human rights are often attributed to the ripple effects of colonization and the present neocolonialism. Imperialism was a virtue taught by the colonizer and Africans emulate it perfectly when they abuse human rights. What precipitates the situation in Africa is that these atrocities occur before the state. The situation is so worse in some places that human rights are in the preserve of non-governmental organizations. However, despite these challenges the continent has managed to make admirable steps in recognition of human rights. The African society has a wide role in the development or undermining of its human rights.
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Abuse and Protection of Human Rights
Modern-day literature is full of both past and recent atrocities committed against human rights in any society. So enormous are these atrocities that one is tempted to question the real intention behind advocating for human rights. Do they really exist if they keep on being violated now and again? Are there any standards associated with human rights in the modern world? As discussed before, the aspect of liberty, organization, and self-determination are important when addressing the issues of violation of human rights. A society that claims to honor or preserve human rights is often seen to be in peace. Does the protection of human rights ascertain the peace and sustainability of a state? States that often violate human rights are always seen to be at peace or to foster peace. Does the situation of the USA depict this mindset? If we are to address the abuse of human rights in the world, we must look at the following basic things in society. All of this is stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Universality and Inalienability: Every person in the world is entitled to human rights despite his or her geographical location. The right to a leave-with-pay is commonly associated with people who earn or receive monthly wages; thus, it cannot be grouped as a universal right in this sense.
Equality and Non-discrimination: The essence of this is to avert discrimination on the basis of color, gender, ethnic group, sexual orientation, and religion.
Participation and Inclusion: A person in the ideal sense of human rights has the right to fully participate in any decision-making process that fully affects his/her life. Communities, minorities, women, and young people that are allowed to participate fully in any human right change or discussion foster the acknowledgment of the fundamentality of human rights in society.
Indivisibility: Dignity and liberty as human rights cannot be separated. Each human right and its fundamentality possess equal fundamentality and are indivisible. For instance, the right to adequate medical care and health and the right to education cannot be separated on any grounds be it for the preserve of other human rights.
Interdependence and Interrelatedness: Each human right is directly related to another in making a person’s dignity more complete. Completeness is achieved on developmental, physical, psychological, and spiritual levels. To fulfill this, all human rights must work hand in hand and interrelate with one another.
The Law and Accountability: This is perhaps the most fundamental ingredient to any aspect of human rights protection. The past shows how the neglect of human rights by a particular political entity can lead to widespread human rights atrocities and abuse. States and their judicial system must comply with the international take on human rights as put forth in the Declaration. If a judicial or political system fails to hold or account for human rights then the respective holders of these rights are entitled to initiate proceedings that address their rights. The part of accountability in society is best addressed by individuals and bodies like the media, international community, and any civil society.
Consequently, the effects of any social or universal declaration that is heavily loaded with promises and assertions of both economic and social rights must endeavor to ouster political and civil rights out of the normal realm of morality into obligating an enlightening world of utopian aspirations. The 20th-century Declaration of Human Rights, in its sheer sense as seen from the foregoing discussion, forced the United Nations to admit that its utter achievement only managed to produce an average achievement. However, nothing is more fundamental than the independent view of a right than the acknowledgment of its feeble ideality.
The close association between rights and duties is often realized in their applicability. Taking the practical sense of duties, one is not entitled to commit to a duty that is physically inconceivable. Thus, what is true of duties is also true about human rights. What a layman can understand from this statement is that if a thing (event or human right) is impractical or impossible, then its claim is completely absurd or misguided.
To honor a man’s or citizen’s right to life, worship, speech is not a very expensive venture by any government or political system. If governments or political systems could let people or citizens lead a life of their own, enjoy what they please, meet and socialize with friends, publish whatever they want, and worship freely, no amount of straining will be realized by any authority. However, a system must be put in place, perfected, articulated, and elaborated as to why and how to protect any human rights.
The shortcomings that are associated with claims to economic rights have a different effect on the concept of human rights as has been discussed. Governments of developing countries and poorly industrialized countries are completely incapacitated when it comes to the provision of social security and leave-with-pay economic rights as common in developed countries. However, it is common knowledge that the application of a common legislature can help address and secure social rights. Economic rights are totally different. For any government to effectively address these rights it must possess a great might when it comes to its economy or financial muscle.
The denial of economic rights as universal rights does not per se mean their complete denial as human rights. In fact, they can be considered as rights that belong to a certain group of people with a unique and common characteristic. Such rights can be termed as those enquired by virtue of earning. Other similar rights are, for instance, the right to be relieved of sickness or ill-health through a premium subscription to an insurance fund. By merely subscribing to an insurance fund, either individually or through taxation, one earns a right. By being employed, one earns the right to economic rights.
The aspect of protection and abuse of human rights is best understood when one views it from a layman`s eye view. The abuse of human rights as seen in the Third Reich that led to a massive row on human rights, the Soviet Union labour camp detentions, and apartheid in South Africa are practices that cannot be viewed as failures to do what is right in society but can be explained satisfactorily on the grounds of gross violations of the law or simply as injustice. A right cannot be viewed simply as an ideality as this would mean that it will not be realized immediately. Human rights should be respected pronto otherwise their violation will be termed as an injustice.
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In conclusion, it can be widely agreed (drawing from a number of traditional definitions and perspectives on natural human rights) that natural rights are bestowed by natural law. By a mere affirmation of the existence of human rights, one is succinctly suggesting that there is a unique aspect in human beings that makes them completely different from animals or godly creatures. A layman can view natural rights on the pretext that they are claims that one is naturally entitled to make. These claims can come in a wide variety of ways, for example, possession of natural will does not make one willingly advocate for his or her violent death or the willful infliction of grievous pain or injury. A normal human being will not wish to receive factors that predispose him/her to strenuous natural movement or impede his/her ability to express utterances and natural sentiments. Humans differ from animals in the aspect of vulnerability since man is inefficiently endowed with natural defensive adaptations like talons as in eagles or spikes as in porcupines.
Further conclusions can be drawn from this aspect of human vulnerability: it basically transforms man into a social being completely reliant on a system of laws or rules that shall ascertain his/her well-being and foster peaceful relationships with his or her neighbors. Human beings have independent thoughts, think critically, and cannot be compelled to perform social functions as is the case with ants and bees. Man’s independence only serves to depict an evident possibility to live outside society. However, his/her physical susceptibility predisposes his/her safety once outside society. He or she is compelled to live in a society only if he/she indulges neighborliness. The concept of natural human rights is an attempt by mankind to elaborate the most fundamental principles that are to be employed by any mankind society in building a human rights system. These rights must possess a positive factor for effective societal cohesiveness and fairness with an almost ready answer to human beings’ natural wants and claims.
Human society builds or yields morality. Any understanding of morality by humankind, therefore, is greatly owed by his or her actual knowledge and experience earned by living in society. It is in this society that man can make moral claims. For instance, a claim can be articulated in the sense that he/she laments that he/she needs not be injured. Conventionally, any layman understands, at the societal level, that no injury shall be bestowed on a man as long as he or she does not inflict an injury on his or hers neighbor. Thus, society bilaterally and simultaneously creates a duty and a human right: a duty not to injure and a right not to be injured. It is reasonable to also view natural rights as a form of universal moral rights. The mere possession of a moral right is not enough, it must also be respected.
Nature again conceives the right to freedom. To be free, according to the Greeks, is to possess a great free will at determining one`s desires. The right to freedom comes in various forms or ways and greatly depends on the context. Freedom of speech, expression, movement, worship, and choice are just a few of these contexts. However, it is worth noting that these statements present an ideological sense and in reality, an individual’s rights will often collide with those of another person or state. Common sense states that a free country is often better than tyranny.