Archive for August 10th, 2012

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Human Rights are what exactly?

August 10, 2012

I am struggling dear readers.  My extremely limited intelligence is having difficulty with human rights.

I don’t mean I don’t understand what human rights are according to the various laws, national and international to which I am both subjected and protected by, even my limited intelligence has been able to grasp that, but I am struggling with the very fundamental core from whence the ever increasing scope of human rights has sprung.

I am a firm believer that human rights at its very centre derives from dignity.  Nothing more and nothing less.  To treat others and they you would have them treat you regardless of our differences.  After all, we are all born exactly  the same, a blank canvass, we are simply educated to be different as we grow older through tradition, culture, education systems themselves, religion etc.

The problem comes with understanding what exactly dignity is, and then deciding whether much of our current human rights issues are indeed human rights issues based on dignity, or are they being hijacked by perceptions of entitlements some believe should be human rights despite the fact they have very little to do with individual or collective dignity?

I will come on some examples later, of whether something is indeed a dignity based human right (and thus sits easily with me), or whether it seems far more like an expected entitlement with very little to do with human dignity at all – and this is where I struggle.

At this point, I should declare that I am quite obviously not the only one who believes that dignity is the cornerstone of human rights.  The German Basic Law from which the German Constitution draws significant strength, has dignity as its uppermost right under the law.  Article 1 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union unequivocally asserts the inviolability of human dignity.  In fact many constitutions around the world note “human dignity” in their text.

I should note that strangely, the European Convention on Human Rights actually does not mention the word dignity at all, despite it being the very first Article in the EU’s fundamental rights charter which is applicable to all EU citizens.  That said, dignity is certainly at the core of many of the Articles within the European Convention, such as Article 8 (a right to a private life) and Article 2 (right to life) etc.

It is hard to argue that a right to life, a right to a private life, a right to be free from degrading treatment within the European Convention are not based solely upon human dignity.  Ergo, all sit very easily with me indeed, just as the right to freedom of speech, freedom of expression, right to a fair trial etc also equally sit very comfortably.  All relate to being treated equally and thus upholding the same dignity for every autonomous citizen.

However, what of the increasing call to make Internet access a human right?  What is dignified about such a call?  Why is having Internet access being championed as a human right when I can be denied the right via restriction of movement through the Visa system to actually physically go an see the author of anything on the Internet?

If my freedom to travel anywhere at any time to see whomever I wish is subject to arbitrary decisions of sovereign governments through Visa regulations and this is not contrary to my human rights and thus not treating me in a less than dignified way, how is restricting and/or stopping my access to Internet content by the same sovereign governments any more of a breach of my human rights?

Is there any more an affront to my dignity to deny me travel than to prevent me reading on the Internet something written by the person I was traveling to see?  If the World Wide Web is to become a human right based upon dignity and equality of access, what then does that say of the Visa system employed globally by all sovereign governments  preventing unrestricted world wide travel?

Is it not somewhat hollow to argue global unrestricted Internet access as a human right and yet still support a restrictive Visa system on who can travel and to where?  Which is less dignified when it is refused?  Is unrestricted Internet access really a human right (based on dignity) or is unrestricted Internet access something we feel we should all be entitled to?  Where do fundamental human rights end and entitlements (realistic or otherwise) begin?

It is also important to make a distinction between morals and dignity which alas seems to be all but disappearing.

Through a certain lens, the Vatican’s stance on the right to life can been seen to be used to continue to assert pressure over women across the world.

What of euthanasia?  Certainly morality and dignity can come into quite severe conflict here.  Is there anything moral or dignified about stretching my life by an additional 3 weeks of intense pain and drug use to the point I don’t know where or who I am, vis a vis allowing me to die with dignity being fully compos mentis before these final few weeks?

Naturally politics plays a massive part in what is deemed as a human right (dignity) and what is not, when laws are written in such a way to lead the judiciary along a certain path, but this can lead to the situation where there is also the dignity of the collective and the autonomous dignity of the individual that often comes head to head.

What does a government do when charged with protecting the right to life of numerous citizens if it is necessary to take preventative action against an individual whom it is suspected will carry out a heinous act?  Just because the intelligence is there, does not mean that there is sufficient evidence for a court of law.

What takes precedence?  The human rights of the suspected individual or the human rights of the collective – particularly when evidence is thought unlikely to be sufficient for a court of law but the threat is deemed to be very real regardless?

Dear readers, I am somewhat flummoxed.

Like all people I care about human rights.  I care even more when it is my human rights that are being suppressed.   I think everybody would be the same.  I, like Aristotle, Kant, and the numerous sovereign constitutions around the world, put dignity as the very core of human rights.

What I am starting to doubt, is that dignity is the foundation for an awful lot of would-be human rights some would have us receive.  In fact I would go so far as to say that Kantian “dignity of man” has been hijacked by moralists to the point where morals, and not dignity, is becoming the cornerstone of much of the recent human rights conversations and proposals.  This will lead to mission creep and/or distort the meaning of dignity.  It will lead to perceived entitlements and wrong-headed thinking to become enshrined in human rights law where it does not belong.

Quite honestly, not somewhere it needs to go, or should be going, to my (possibly old fashioned or classical) way of thinking.  Dignity and morality are not the same thing.

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