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On December tenth 1948 in the Palis de Chaillot in Paris, the United Nation’s General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The document is made up of thirty articles which deal with a series of basic human rights and duties. It follows the premise that
” the declaration is a common standard of achievement for all peoples and nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the people of member states themselves and among the people of territories under their jurisdiction.”
However this is not always the case, infraction to the human rights code are all too often practiced, today as much as 50 years ago. War crimes in the former Yugoslavia, terrorist acts in the Gaza strip, Political prisoners in China, the disappercidos of Chile and Argentina, female genital mutilation in orthodox Muslim communities are all too common. However the message this document stands for is one for the universality of man and woman kind alike. It tells of such basic rights as freedom and life that are owed to every human being regardless of the language she speaks. They are inalienable in the fact that human rights have no boundary and are sovereign to no king or state. Shue seems to disagree with this, since in describing the comparative advantage theory of government he mentions that “each nation’s own government (or other social institutions) are best able to care for the welfare of the people of that nation…” This latest theory provides some backing for ‘cultural soveirgnty’, however it does so by demeaning the universality of human rights, and is therefore unacceptable with what I’m choosing as a moral standpoint.
As I mentioned human rights start with the basics (freedom, life) and develop further into the right of peaceful assembly and the right to education. “Perhaps the most obvious thing to be said about rights is that they are constitutive of the domain of entitlements. They help to define and serve to protect those things concerning which one can make a very special kind of claim – a claim of right. To claim or to acquire anything as a matter of right is crucially different from seeking or obtaining it as through grant or privilege, the receipt of a favor, or the presence of a permission. To have a right to something is, typically, to be entitled to receive or posses or enjoy it now, and to do so without securing the consent of another. As long as one has a right to anything, it is beyond the reach of another properly to withhold or deny it. In addition, to have a right is to be absolved from the obligation to weigh a variety of what would in other contexts be relevant considerations; it is to be entitled to the object of the right …. without anymore ado. To have a right to anything is, in short, to have a very strong moral or legal claim upon it. It is the strongest kind of claim that there is.”[9 pp48]
Cultural Rights Against Individual Rights
As explained above human rights are of an essential nature for the benefit of man and woman kind alike. It is on the base of this necessity that I consider cultural rights as an attack against human rights. Cultural rights have been proposed as a mean to the object of cultural preservation. It is questionable weather the preservation of culture for the benefit of the individual is more valuable than that individual’s claim to his/her natural rights. Once again the argument of the right to exit comes up. If an individual has the option to leave than no injustice is forced upon him or her. This philosophy is erroneous on multiple levels. For starters if something is essentially wrong, and any action to violate natural rights is, then there can be no rationalizing it . Second, if the value of culture is as deep as cultural activists say it is (this I don’t intend to argue) then it is obvious that to leave ones culture can be a devastating experience (this is the only point where my views are separate from Hartney’s, he considers exit from a culture a relieving occurrence, I obviously disagree out of personal experience) . A cultural bond is often interlinked to family and friends and leaving the culture would provide freedom in a desert of social solitude. Further we must consider that around the world there are many society were the financial means of exit are not accessible to the majority of individual. And as a final critique of the afore mentioned theory there is the possibility of a lack of option or even knowledge . A person granted with the right to leave might not have any other culture or faith available to him/her to be adopted into, or the lack of knowledge prevents him/her from making an educated choice or in some cases from even knowing that his/her rights were being infringed upon.
After pointing out the necessity for cultural preservation and having exposed the inconsistency between cultural and human rights we must now decide if there is any way to mate the two such as to find an happy medium. One could forward the idea that human rights come in a certain order ant that is not coincidental that the basic natural rights come before one’s right to culture and assembly. However this would be a low-grade simplistic approach. I prefer to tackle the problem drawing a parallel out of Hartney’s theory.
He supports a theory of ‘value-individualism’ where by all goods are good because they contribute to the well being of individual human beings. Further he states that “If we assume that communities are valuable and ought to be protected, the next issue is weather this protection can, or should, take the form of rights. This issue involves two sets of distinctions between moral and legal rights …(and) the debate about collective rights is flawed by a failure to discuss each kind of right separately. The second distinction is that between the conceptual question weather rights moral or legal can ever inhere in collectives, and the substantive question weather the protection of communities requires that they be endowed with rights.” 
A legal rights implies that the law has forced a criteria to be followed, while a moral right implies that there is an individual good to be respected. The law has a tendency of dealing with groups as single entities, therefore any legal rights bestowed by a government onto a group would not be of a collective nature. Further all claims to any group moral rights that may seem to prevail over individual rights, when analyzed, boil down to a statement of individual rights, with the attempt of administering them via a group entity. “Individual rights require governments to refrain from interfering in people’s lives, while group rights require them to provide services.”
In conclusion I would like to say there is no justification for moral rights to be granted to groups. However cultures are to preserved as a value for the individual, and if legal rights (the only type of rights available to groups) are to be granted to do so then provisions need to be taken to point out that legal rights as issuance’s of the government, cannot interfere with the greater cause of Human Rights.
1.Darlene Johnston, ‘Native Rights as Collective Rights: A Question of Group Self-Preservation’, Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, Vol. 2/1 (1989), pp. 19-34.
2.Chandran Kukathas, ‘Are There Any Cultural Rights?’, Political Theory, Vol.20 (1992), pp.105-139
3.1948 General Assembly of United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Adopted on Dec. 10th at the Palais de Chaillot, Paris.
4.Goeffrey Brennan and Loren Lomasky, Politics and Process, Cambridge University Press, 1989.
5.Carole Pateman, The Problem of Political Obligation, University of California Press, 1985.
6.Henry Shue, Basic Rights, Princeton University Press, 1979.
7.Joel Feinberg, Rights,Justice, and the Bounds of Liberty, Princeton University Press,1980
8.Alan Gewirth, Human Rights, The University of Chicago Press, 1982
9.David Lyons, Rights, Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1979
10. Michael Hartney, ‘Some Confusion Concerning Collective Rights’, Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, Vol. 4/2 (1991), pp. 293-314
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