Introduction to human rights
- What does “human” mean?
The term “human” in this context has an inclusionary and an exclusionary dimension. It is inclusive because it applies to all human beings (as opposed to rights some of which historically have only been granted to white men). In this regard, human rights are progressive and equalitarian. However, the term “human” is also exclusionary in that it does not cover other sentient beings (including sentient beings like pigs whose intelligence is comparable to that of a two-to-three year old human child).
- What exactly are “rights”?
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy uses the following definition: “Rights are entitlements (not) to perform certain actions, or (not) to be in certain states; or entitlements that others (not) perform certain actions or (not) be in certain states.”
- What were some of the precursors to today's human rights? And where can I read more about the historical developments of human rights?
Early documents which asserted individual rights were the Magna Carta (1215), the English Bill of Rights (1689), the French Declaration on the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789), and the US Constitution and Bill of Rights (1791). However, these documents weren't inclusionary.
You can read more about the historical development of human rights here.
- How can human rights be categorized?
A common distinction is between positive and negative rights. A negative right (generally the more common form of rights) is the entitlement to be free of something, for instance to be free of torture or arbitrary detention. A positive right is the entitlement to something, for instance the right to an education. More about this distinction can be found here.
- What are the three generations of human rights?
Three generation of human rights refers to the division of human rights into three categories:
- First generation: Civil and Political Rights
- Second generation: Economic Social and Cultural Rights
- Third generation: Collective Rights
A good, crisp summary with examples of these rights can be found here.
- Where can I read more about human rights theory?
A highly recommended resource is “A Theory of Constitutional Rights” by Robert Alexy. It is, however, not the easiest of reads.
What is the "International Bill of Rights”? What other international human rights documents exist? And where can I read more about this?
The term is generally used for three legal documents:
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
- The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
- The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESC)
Examples of other human rights documents include the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989).