Talk:Human rights

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 Definition Natural civil and political rights considered universal and applicable to all human beings worldwide. [d] [e]
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 Workgroup categories Philosophy, Politics and Law [Categories OK]
 Subgroup category:  International relations
 Talk Archive none  English language variant American English

Proposal for a rewrite

An article on human rights should in my opinion contain the following elements:

  • historical origins - the American Declaration of Independence, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man etc
  • philosophical examination; do rights exist? (Bentham, Amartya Sen)
  • current legislation and case law
  • political aspects

Since the current article does not contain all of those elements, it should, in my opinion, be replaced by one that does.
Nick Gardner 05:58, 4 August 2012 (UTC)

I see the workgroups listed are Philosophy and Politics. I think Law should be added.
There's certainly a lot to cover. Peter Jackson 09:32, 4 August 2012 (UTC)

Cultural relativism

To me it seems that "human rights" has its legal and historical background as noted above. However, the "cultural relativism" criticism is a difficult one. It would appear that primitive concepts of inherent and inalienable rights is a fiction, pure and simple, and a real question of a practical nature is how much autonomy a system can allow its citizenry and still function according to its goals. Aside from the empirical question of how much autonomy is consistent with the continuing survival and evolution posed within the context of a particular system, there arises the larger empirical question about the relative merits of different systems, and just how the merits might be decided.

So "cultural relativism" is bang-on, and "human rights" as defined by the UN are not consistent with freedom of choice in one's political system, which should be a "human right", yes? John R. Brews 16:40, 15 August 2012 (UTC)

A simple example is the prohibition of state-run casino gambling. Is this a "human right" despite the historical advantages of societies that have disallowed it, as measured by the material prosperity of their citizenry? (For example, Confucius (in his older days) said gambling was predatory.) Another example is education, which is a major source of disruption among the educated population that has no outlet for their enhanced abilities due to the lack of employment opportunity in "developed" societies. The resulting dissatisfaction leads to unrest inimical to the stability of "developed" countries, and therefore to attempts to suppress education (apart from teaching of the technical skills necessary to keep food production and power generation operational) and to promote sound-bite thinking in its place. Forgive the evident bias here, these are just examples that can be considered as indicative of the issues. John R. Brews 16:58, 15 August 2012 (UTC)

The existing section Philosophical objections introduces these matters, but might be extended further, IMO, perhaps with some concrete actual examples. John R. Brews 17:38, 15 August 2012 (UTC)

Thank you, John, for some valuable food for thought. I am feeling my way with this article, and learning as I go. I started with the conviction that the concept lacked integrity and that the various declarations were a combination of bullshit and claptrap. But I have since been astonished by the evidence of their political impact. (Poll results indicate that most Europeans consider respect for human rights to be the principal justification for their country's membership of the EU!). I have also been amazed by the willingness of most countries to undertake legal obligations to implement such a wide range of so-called rights. I am not sure yet how to maintain the right balance among those paradoxically different aspects. For the time being I plan to plod on regardless, but I expect to have to return later to add to and subtract from earlier drafting. I may decide to open a "Debate Guide" subpage in which to deal with some of the many controversial issues that crop up. Nick Gardner 09:46, 16 August 2012 (UTC)
"Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue" (or words to that effect). The fact that nearly every country in the world has formally signed up to HR doesn't mean they have any intention of taking any practical notice. Remember the last Olympics? The IOC extracted all sorts of HR commitments from the Chinese government, which were then comprehensively ignored. They set up a special location for demonstrations, but not a single one was actually allowed to take place. At least Hitler kept his promise to include a token Jewish athlete in the German 1936 team.
On the actual question of cultural relativism, there's also the point that the meanings of some rights have changed. For example, the US and UK governments have both been threatening to cut aid to countries with laws against homosexuality, claiming they violate the HR to privacy. But most of the countries who voted through the UDHR in 1948 had such laws at the time, and showed no intention of changing them for a long time after, so presumably they didn't intend that right to be so interpreted. Peter Jackson 10:04, 16 August 2012 (UTC)


Couple of issues I think should be covered more explicitly:

  1. interpretation: how are all these vague platitudes to be interpreted? I've given a few illustrative examples at freedom of religion, but maybe the discussion here should be more abstract; and who does the interpreting?
    1. the democratic process in each country?
    2. the legal system in each country?
    3. international courts? This is what's emphasized in what's been written so far, but there's a lot of opposition here: not long ago the House of Commons voted by a large majority to reject a ruling by the ECHR to give votes to prisoners serving modest sentences; Cameron is currently trying to renegotiate the treaty, but if that fails the House will hav eto decide whether to back down or leave the Council of Europe
  2. practicality: this particularly applies to poor countries: Bangladesh can't be expected to do much in the way of economic rights (and the "government" of Somalia can't be expected to do anything about any HR); but it can apply even in advanced countries: in the Netherlands in recent years 2 prominent critics of Islam have been assassinated and a 3rd is under 24-hour armed guard; it seems reasonable to suppose that many would-be critics have been cowed by this and thereby deprived of part of their right of free speech, but I can't see that the government can do much about it in the short to medium term

Maybe I'll write something properly but as you can see my thoughs are rather at the drawing-board stage. Peter Jackson 10:00, 30 August 2012 (UTC)

I think the introduction should start with a definition of what is human rights. Isn't it the idea that humans should be free from oppression and torture? (Chunbum Park 15:10, 30 August 2012 (UTC))
Thank you both. I have tried to meet some of your points in the new paragraphs on the nature of the concept and on the overview of implementation and I will bear the others in mind as continue drafting. Nick Gardner 10:13, 31 August 2012 (UTC)