ON THE NOTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
The aim of this chapter is to discuss the concept of human rights. This chapter will look at the concept from different perspectives in order to have a meaningful discussion on it. It would also make reference to rights. The chapter will also identify and characterize forms of human rights as conceived by scholars and consider arguments for human rights.
1. 1 On the Concept of Rights
There have been disagreements about what is meant by the term “rights”. The concept of rights is one with different views and may in some situations depend on the age of the citizen .For example, as a child(minor), my father is obliged to take care of me but upon attaining the age of 18,I have the right to leave my father’s house but it is constitutionally approved of me to do so if I want to but it actually depends one’s country and the constitution abides with and would lead us to different scholars who hold different views about what right is and gave different perspectives to it .Various definitions have been offered by different scholars who gave their view about rights. For instance, Joseph Omoregbe claims that rights are the privileges that individuals are entitled to enjoy1. Rights can either be legal, social, or ethical principles of freedom or entitlement; that is, rights are the fundamental rules about what is allowed of people or owed to people, according to some legal system or social convention, thus, there have been considerable debates about what the term, “rights” means2.
There are diverse things that are seen as rights. One could consider different usage of the term “rights” such as to know its different ways it is been used and consider its multiple understandings and senses it is used; right to life, right to vote, right to assembly right to education ,right to own a property.3 We are also have special rights called immunities which is also considered as special rights which elected officers and political appointees are privilege to due to their various offices and which lapse at the end of their tenure in office. In my own opinion ,I believe rights is one which one has irrespective of one’s race, sex, beliefs, nationality e.t.c. but rights varies in terms of immunities because a president’s rights is different from ordinary citizens rights e.g. if an elected executive officers is accused of corruption ,embezzlement or misappropriation of funds due to their offices they are privileged to ,they would not be tried or charged to court at that moment as a result attached to their office unlike an ordinary citizen who works in a private sector or a civil servant who misappropriate funds and who would be tried at the instance. These are special rights available to certain citizens of a country and we also have other types of rights which includes political, legal, human and natural rights which are sub-classes of moral rights that humans have because of their nature.
1.2 Defining What Human Rights is
A Right is seen from different perspectives by different people. For instance, what right is to the ordinary man on the street is different from what it is described among persons of a learned nature. Again, the way a non-philosophic mind will try to answer the question; what human rights is, is expectedly going to be different from the way a philosopher will approach the question .This means that as “rights” is interpreted differently; the construction is determined by a level of understanding of the subject matter. From my own point of view, human rights are rights that are natural to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, tribe, ethnic, religion, language e.t.c. Human rights also posits that we are entitled to equality before the law.
Human rights are moral principles or norms which describe certain standards of human behavior, they are regularly protected as legal rights in the internal affairs of a nation and this is also included in international laws and charters4. They are commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights which are guaranteed “to which a person is inherently entitled simply because they are human beings, and which are inherent in all human beings regardless of their nation, location, language, religion, ethnic origin or any other status”5.These are applicable everywhere and at every time in the sense of being universal and they are egalitarian(social equity) in the sense of being the same for everyone. They require intellectual identification of thoughts and the rule of law and impose an obligation on persons to respect the dignity of others. They should not be taken away except as a result of due process based on specific circumstances; for example, human rights may include freedom from unlawful imprisonment, torture, and execution6. In John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government;
it could be understood that the primacy of the individual to the society that every individual has certain rights which are inalienable either by any other individual or the state, the idea of equality of citizenship, the authority of governments as derivatives of the consent of the individual persons in the state and the limit of the power wielded by the state as not absolute7.
Furthermore, the doctrine of human rights has been highly influential within international law, and regional institutions.8States carry out actions and non-governmental organizations to form a basis of public policy all over the world. There have been strong claims made by the doctrine of human rights which continue to appeal to debates about the content, nature and justifications of human rights till today. The precise meaning of the term right is controversial and is the subject of continued philosophical debate;9 while there is consensus that human rights encompasses a wide variety of rights such as the right to a fair trial, prohibition of genocide (the systematic killing of substantial numbers of people on the basis of their ethnicity, religion, social status or other particularities),free speech,10or a right to education there is disagreement about which of these particular rights should be included within the general framework of human rights.11 Some thinkers also believe that human rights should be a minimum requirement to avoid improper treatment, while others see it as a higher standard.12 Human rights are powerful because they change people from being an object in their own life to being a subject in their own life; human rights movement now makes it a culture for people to see themselves as rights holders13.
Also, Beitz John writes that “it is the case that the duties associated with human rights often require actions involving respect, protection, and provision. Human rights are usually required in the sense of imposing duties on their addressees, but some legal human rights seem to do little more than declaring high-priority goals and designate responsibility for their progressive realization”14. Further, it’s of my own opinion that human rights could also exist independently of legal enactment(a piece of legislation that has been properly authorized by a legislative body) by being part of actual human moralities ,all human groups seem to have moralities: which are normal behavior backed by reasons and values. These moralities contain specific norms for example, disallowing intentional murder of an innocent person, and specific values for example; human life. One way in which human rights could exist apart from divine or human enactment is as norm accepted in almost all actual human moralities. If almost all human groups have moralities containing norms prohibiting murder, these norms could constitute the human right to life. Human rights can be seen as basic moral norms shared by all or almost all accepted human moralities In general, the philosophy of human rights addresses questions about the existence, content, nature, universality, justification, and legal status of human rights.
1.3 Characterizing Human Right
1.3.1 Human Rights are Universal and Inalienable
Universal human rights are often expressed and guaranteed by law, in the forms of treaties, customary and international laws, general principles and other sources of international law. International human rights laws lay down obligations for governments to act in certain ways or to refrain from certain acts, in order to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedom of individuals or groups15. The principle of universality of human rights has been the foundation international human rights law. In 1948, The Universal Declaration on Human Rights firstly emphasized on this principle which has been shown in several international human rights convention .There was also a conference on Human Rights which was held in Vienna in 1993 which also emphasized that it is the duty of the States to protect and promote human rights despite what exist in their political, economic and cultural systems .16 In my own opinion, I believe Human Rights are inalienable because they are endowed on an individual due to the nature of his or her own existence and it is also inherent in all individuals. They cannot be taken away, except in some situations and according to due process as mentioned earlier. For example, the right to liberty may be restricted if a person is found guilty of a crime by a court of law.
1.3.2 Human Rights are Interdependent and Indivisible
All human rights are indivisible, whether civil or political, such as the right to life, equality before the law and freedom of expression; economic, social and cultural rights, such as the rights to work or collective rights, such as the rights to development and self-determination which are indivisible, interrelated and interdependent. The improvement of one right facilitates advancement of the others. Likewise, the deprivation of one right adversely affects the others.17I believe different rights need each other, when one does not comply with the other ,it most likely would lead to violations of other rights.
1.3.3 Equal and Non-discriminatory
Non-discrimination is a principle in international human rights law which talks about the major human rights treaties and provides the topic of some international human rights conventions such as the international convention on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination and the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. The principle applies to everyone in relation to all human rights and freedom and it disallows discrimination on the basis of a list of categories such as sex, race, and color e.t.c. The principle of non-discrimination is completed by the principle of equality, as stated in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal with other people when it comes to rights because all people are equal humans.” 18
1.3.4 Rights and Obligations
Human rights are in the form of laws that apply to all human beings without any discrimination. It is the obligation of all states to implement these and create an environment where human rights can be enjoyed by all people. Some of these rights are right to life, right to equality, freedom of expression, the right to education, right to work, right to associate e.t.c. Rights allows the citizen to be aware of what they are entitled to and what they are not entitled to do. In different societies and cultural groups, there are various rights; these may be backed up by social, ethical or legal boundaries. When speaking of rights, a universal set of values applies to all human beings irrespective of nationality, sex, culture, religion, or group, this is equally known as human rights, this entail both rights and obligations. States assume obligations and duties under international law to respect, to protect and to fulfill human rights, it has the obligation to respect, this means that states must not cut short the enjoyment of human rights. The obligation to protect requires states to protect individuals and groups against human rights abuses. The obligation to fulfill means that states must take positive action to make it easy for the enjoyment of basic human rights, it is not only the state that should respect our rights, as individuals while we are entitled our human rights and we should also respect the human rights of others19.
There are various forms of obligations such as legal obligation, moral obligation, e.t.c. For example putting old people in our care, or else looking after your parents when they are old, is not a legal obligation ,there are no laws that force you to do them. However, this shows that we are morally obligated to do so. If individuals are more focused on obtaining their rights but are indifferent to their obligations, it creates a negative influence. Hence, people should realize that just as they enjoy their rights, they have to fulfill their obligations towards others; it should be vice versa, Human rights are as important as obligation.20 Similarly to the rights of citizens, the Constitution also governs the obligations of citizens, for example, in Estonia, every citizen has a primary assignment and it has for them to go for military defense training at a very certain age and this is for the country’s benefit when it comes to emergency or wartime, citizens may be required to assume additional obligations in the interests of national security but if the citizen does not have the power or the ability to go for this military defense training then such individual would be said to go for an alternative service instead.21
1.4 On Civil and Political Rights
Most civil and political rights are not strictly adhere to by different regimes or government which in some cases be overridden by other considerations. For example, the right to freedom of movement can be restricted by public or private property rights, by restraining orders related to domestic punishment, and by legal punishments. When it comes to natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunami, free movement is hindered, to permit access of emergency vehicles and equipment. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights permits rights to be suspended during times of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation. But it excludes some rights from suspension including the right to life, and freedom of thought and religion and this includes different conditions which varies from one nation to the other which are often based on important principles like dignity, fairness, respect and equality.22Civil rights shows that it has a positive role in ensuring all citizens protection equally under law and equal opportunity to exercise the privileges of citizenship and the participation in national life, irrespective of the race, religion, sex, or any consideration regarding one as an individual.23
Civil rights protect the citizen in their everyday life regardless of who they are and where they live and how they chose to live their life. Examples of basic civil rights include: the right to life, the right to respect for private and family life, the right to freedom of religion and belief. The term "civil rights" is often associated with the protection of minority groups, such as African Americans, Latin Americans and sometimes women 24.
Furthermore, civil right is an enforceable right or privilege, when being interfered with it gives rise to an action for injury, this could be seen in areas like freedom of speech, freedom of press the right to vote and the right to equality in public place .For example ,In Nigeria ,when one belongs to a higher class or being a member of an elite group, there is a tendency of discrimination to occur because some individual’s right might be interfered, different nations have made laws laid down by the legislature to prevent discrimination based on a person's race, sex, religion, age, nationality, origin, . These rights can be guided by the enforcement of the law peculiar to nations25.
1.5 On Environmental Rights and Human Rights
For us to have a sustainable development ,there must be an interaction between the man and the environment, for us to have such development ,there must be a recognizable impact of the man on the environment, this later shows that environmental problems pose serious threats to fundamental human interests, values, or norms; that governments may appropriately be burdened with the responsibility of protecting people against these threats; and that most governments actually have the ability to do this and not because they pose threats to us, we should jeopardize or exploiting the environment because we have such protection from the government. Environmental protection is expensive and difficult and it would not be easy for the government to meet up with other responsibilities at hand.26
1.6 Human Right and Animal Right
According to the advocate of Great Ape Project, since apes match or even exceed the intellectual and social capabilities of children and mentally retarded adults, there is no logical justification for denying apes basic rights. According to Peter Singer, a cofounder of the project writes that “We now have sufficient information about the capacities of great apes to make it clear that the moral boundary we draw between us and them is indefensible.”27
We have opponent who challenged the assertion that the cognitive abilities of apes are comparable to those of humans. Ronald Nadler of the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center in Atlanta, Georgia, claims that Jane Goodall has “exaggerated the intellectual nature of the animal.”28 Moreover, there are some genetic similarities between man and the apes which have been proven by medical experiment , if there is the possibility of one having the same similarities ,the opponent believe that we are to risk human lives. Following the controversy over animal rights is the question of whether animals deserve the same moral status as humans, this has been argued by different scholars because of their different views. One of the ways by which it has been argued is in favor of human, that is; human right is over and above animal rights29.
There are two major problems with this. The first problem is that not all humans are smart as animals. The second problem is that intelligence is not even relevant to the rights in question just like the right not to be tortured. Torture is the intentional infliction of pain and suffering. Do smart people suffer from pain differently than dumb people? If not, why would we believe the suffering of a dog is any different or less important than our own, simply because he can’t understand what we do understand as humans? Intelligence might be relevant to the right to life, but only to a very limited degree. People value their lives because they know they have a life that will continue into the future. The use of high intelligence as a requirement for possessing rights such as life, liberty, and freedom from torture is both inadequate and irrelevant. This also includes language ability, tool use, invention of machines, complex emotions, altruism, etc. Besides being irrelevant, I believe that animals are not as capable as humans when it comes to reason or being intellectual.
The truth about human rights has failed to accomplish some objectives. A little is shown about human right treaties and has only little effect on the wellbeing of people and it also deprived in one way or other may be through immunities or also being an elite and it also shows why human right is not universal because it has been imposed on by international laws which has led to different law guides coming out of different constitution which guides different nations which I believe more has to be done to have human rights which has to be universal which would not suffer humans in one way or the other.