Thoughts On Human Rights and Society

Human Rights are a basic requirement of any form of social structure. They are the basic agreement amongst groups of people as to the minimum standard of treatment any individual member of that group may expect from any other member, or group of members.

The exact nature of this minimum standard has of course changed over time. Changes which one would hope would be recognised as an improved direction. Unfortunately deteriorations have also occurred in different Cultures and Geographical (Political) regions.

This Agreement is unfortunately almost always expressed in terms of explicit Rights, without direct specification of the corresponding implied Responsibilities. Human Rights could be better described as Human Responsibilities as understanding the Responsibility implied by any “Right” actually defines the case of and for that Right better than simply stating the Right itself.

When looked at as a set of responsibilities, Human Rights can never be considered to be contrary to any local or religious customs, traditions or laws. The reverse, however may not be true – as those laws, customs or practices would have to incorporate the responsibility of both individuals and the society in question to respect the right of the individual.

Of course there are many Societies, Specific adherents to certain Religions and Governments that fall short – in some cases dismally so – of even recognising, let alone meeting, their most basic responsibilities in this respect.

I should state that my interest in this has been roused over the last three years or so due the fact that in Britain, which was often regarded as one of the key drivers behind what we could described as Modern Human Rights, we are seeing an erosion of the implementation of these rights in a way that most people of my age (born in 1964) would not have believed possible in such a “developed” nation during their lifetime!

We even have the current UK Government talking of “Withdrawing from Human Rights Legislation”. Thus indicating that it regards these Human Rights as an External and not Indigenous concept. This is of course incorrect as most of the core of “Modern Human Rights” has it’s origins within the UK. Certainly from the late 1700’s to the very recent past, this was the case. Although the Magna Carta is often mentioned as a major point in the history of Civil Rights, it was perhaps not quite the great triumph for General Rights sometimes ascribed to it, more a tiny little step in the right direction, for a few but not the majority.

It is also worth bearing in mind that archaeology has thrown up evidence suggesting that some of the earlier (Stone, Bronze and Iron Age) social groups had reasonably agreeable levels of social justice, so it’s not just a new thing – Nor is it a one-way journey!

It is with this in mind that I see the importance of constant vigilance regarding human rights not simply as a bunch of “Do-Gooders” from the EU or UN to try to coerce so-called developing nations into adopting Western Ideologies. It is something more of a constant fight between those who would try to evade their responsibilities (usually in Governments and Corporations) and those who would hold them to their responsibilities (a wide and varied band of individuals and organisations acting both independently and in co-operation).

It could be argued that “doing your bit” to uphold those responsibilities is the most fundamental Responsibility and Right of all.

The Declaration Of Human Rights and it’s relation to Law

As stated above the problem of a declaration of Rights as opposed to Responsibilities is that the Responsibilities are implicit, rather than explicit. That creates the problem of first having to work out how to define a set of guidelines that provide suggestions as to what the final laws to implement such Rights at an international level would “Look Like“. A template, in effect.

It then follows that various conventions have to be drafted and eventually implemented by the creation of specific local laws across a wide range of Political and Cultural National and Social structures and groups.

This is what we have seen so far, in the various International Conventions on Human Rights – and the widely varied interpretation and implementation of them across the spectrum of Nations that have “signed-up” to these Conventions.

Described as Responsibilities however, they actually form an automatic foundation on which to build good law – which is, by nature, law that can be understood by the average person without recourse to higher education!


A quick (very simplistic) example of  Rights vs Responsibilities:

First there is the most important part of any declaration of human rights, as recognised from the very start of the “Modern” Human Rights Movement, This should be read as both a Right and a Responsibility:

“All persons are equal”

There follows my view of seven Rights, listed first as Rights, then expressed as Responsibilities. Note that the responsibilities for individuals differ in some ways from those of “The State”.

Rights

These Rights apply at all times.

  1. You have the right to Life

  2. You have the right to Sufficient Food and Drink

  3. You have the right to Safety and freedom from violence

  4. You have the right to Shelter, which provides Privacy and you may regard as home

  5. You have the right to Liberty

  6. You have the right to a clean and ecologically sound Local and National Environment

  7. You have the right to Freedom from Discrimination and Disparagement in respect of Race, Gender and Physical or Mental Attributes

Responsibilities

Responsibilities for individuals:

  1. You must not cause or allow to be caused through your actions, or lack of reasonable actions, the loss of any other person’s life.

  2. Where you become aware of any person who is being denied access to sufficient food and/or drink to sustain health you must make your best effort to ensure that the situation is remedied by the appropriate authority.

  3. You must not endanger deliberately, through lack of care or lack of reasonable actions, the safety of any other person.

  4. Where you become aware of any person who is being denied access to shelter and privacy (a home) you must make your best effort to ensure that the situation is remedied by the appropriate authority.

  5. You must not deny any person their liberty, or hold them in bondage (slavery).

  6. You must not deliberately, through lack of care or wont of effort destroy, damage or otherwise adversely affect the shared environment.

  7. You must not actively or passively discriminate against anyone due to any Race, Gender and Physical or Mental Attributes they may posses. You must not disparage, treat with lesser respect or mistreat anyone due to any Race, Gender and Physical or Mental attributes they may posses.

Responsibilities of The State:

  1. You must not cause, or allow to be caused, through your actions, or lack of reasonable actions, the loss of a person’s life. In every single case where this is not possible, a full, independent, examination of the case must be carried out to ensure that the given justification is valid.

  2. You must not deliberately, through lack of care, through inaction, or through slowness of response, allow any person, within any territory under your control, to be denied sufficient food and/or drink to sustain health.

  3. You must not endanger deliberately, through lack of care, or lack of reasonable actions, the safety of any person where you have, or may be reasonably expected to have, sufficient influence to act.

  4. You must ensure that no person, within any territory under your control is denied access to shelter and privacy (which should constitute a home).

  5. You must not deny any person their liberty for their views or opinions. You must not deny them their liberty without good reason, or for excessive periods. Any person denied their liberty must be provided with access to effective representation and their case processed in as short a time as can be safely achieved.

  6. You must not allow individuals, groups, or businesses, to deliberately, through lack of care, or wont of effort destroy, damage or otherwise adversely affect the shared environment. Where an effect on the environment is unavoidable, all steps to minimize this and make reparations are to be enforced on the parties responsible. If the there is a danger of the environmental damage being excessive, affecting the health and well-being of people, the choice to err on the side of safety should be taken, until a means of preventing  the adverse effects can be put in place. If the effect on the environment passes beyond the boundaries of the State territories, agreement from any other affected State(s) must be sought, ensuring that the same responsibilities are applied within any affected State.

  7. You must not permit any group to actively or passively discriminate against anyone due to any Race, Gender and Physical or Mental Attributes they may posses. You must not permit any group to disparage, treat with lesser respect or mistreat anyone due to any Race, Gender and Physical or Mental attributes they may posses. The State must never, under any circumstances, engage in any activity or use language, laws, rules or other statutory means, that in any way discriminates against, mistreats, disparages or treats with lesser respect, a person or group due to any Race, Gender,Physical or Mental attributes they may possess.

No doubt it is open to debate as to the specific list of Rights / Responsibilities I have provided. It would however be interesting to to see if there is any part of current Human Rights proposals that cannot be directly, or no more than slightly indirectly, derived from the above seven!

RM 04-09-2014  edited 22-09-2014

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4 thoughts on “Thoughts On Human Rights and Society

  1. You are over-complicating matters by including lists of responsibilities.
    Implicit in the citizen’s rights is the state’s responsibilities to the citizen,which it can enforce/meet with the help of laws, a justice system etc..and the collective resources of the society.
    An individual can’t do all that. That’s the whole point of us having rights; we don’t have the power otherwise.
    Take the right to life; if there is a murderer around taking people’s lives would you advocate vigilantism? Whilst there are times when individual bravery may be required,in the end we need the state to apply the law.
    It’s the same if a corporation is poisoning the water supply. It is the state we must turn to and rely on to apply the law on our behalf. Corporations have laws they should follow,because society as a whole has decided on such laws,but if they breach them then the state has the responsibility to act. Not another corporation,nor the errant corporation itself.

    • On the contrary, the whole point of starting from the Responsibilities, is that it actually simplifies things. This is because the law can explicitly specify the behaviour expected of members of society, rather than trying to frame laws which try to protect each right.

      On the subject of actual action, at the moment a lot of abuse of rights is enabled by the inaction of others. Even in the simplistic examples I provided, I make it quite plain that the action required often consists of bringing the situation to the attention of the appropriate (State) authority. The difference is, you would also be expected to check back that the State had taken action.

      Also note that as individuals are expected not to do things that breaches other people’s rights, that means that even if you are in a group – be it a business or social setting – you have an obligation not to take part in any activity that breaches the rights of anyone else – you also have an obligation to prevent it continuing through reasonable action. You are neither required to risk your own safety and you are certainly not expected to turn vigilante. A lot of it is basically just common sense and respect for the value of others.

      I also quite deliberately separated individual’s responsibilities from those of the State, which has further responsibilities, that include dealing with the examples given above. One primary requirement on the State is the fact that it is not permitted to fail to act on it’s responsibilities.

      The thing about the above is that you can’t think about, say, the State under our current Government (Oct 2014), when you look at this. If such a system were suddenly put in place at present, the Houses of Parliament would be pretty low on MPs and the State-run (State responsibility) Prison / Rehabilitation system would be handling the remainder. Several members of the Cabinet are regularly in breach of both State (over which they have ultimate responsibility) and Personal Responsibilities under the above scheme.

      Although you suggest that the Responsibilities over-complicate things, the actual formulation of workable law is made easier by looking at it from this perspective. It is particularly important to make them precisely defined and explicit, not to rely in imprecisely defined implicit expectations.

      The key point is that until everyone takes responsibility to a reasonable degree, and understands that they have those responsibilities, Human Rights are going to remain something that people believe everyone else should grant to them – without really having to do anything about it themselves.

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