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The last decade has witnessed increased criticism of the classical human rights paradigm for its obsession with the 'culture of claims and rights'. According to its critics, this culture has led to an obsession with the rights of individuals at the expense of focusing on groups and communities worldwide, and moreover, neglecting responsibilities and duties. It is also argued that the Western emphasis on the rights of individuals should be overcome by paying more attention to the responsibilities of individuals and collectivities as represented in other cultures of the world, and several documents have been drafted to this effect. These discussions, and the ensuing documents, are far from only theoretical or abstract but are grounded in day-to-day realities, as the ongoing debates on globalisation, multiculturalism, terrorism, and the like clearly illustrate.This volume comprises ten original chapters that were presented for the first time at a colloquium held at the Faculty of Law of the University of Leuven (Belgium) back in 2006, and subsequently reworked and fine-tuned over the years. Part I sets the scene of the debate about fundamental rights and fundamental responsibilities, while in Part II the implications of an emphasis on responsibilities, duties and obligations are concretised in specific areas and through specific cases. This book cannot answer all the questions posed by the changing realities of rights and responsibilities in today's world, which is undergoing profound changes. However, it does aim to shed new light on important problems related to some of the major transformations occurring in European and Western societies and the ensuing changes in philosophical, political, social and legal thinking. It is therefore directed to academics, as well as policy-makers at various levels, the media and any person interested in a deeper understanding of new challenges for the modern world.
‘And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.’
During his inaugural speech on 20 January 1961, American President John F. Kennedy could not have foreseen that his words would become so famous in the course of the next fifty years. These two sentences have been repeated over and over again, by different people on different occasions, and have also been adapted accordingly. The presidential proclamation that citizens should not limit themselves to claiming benefits and rights from the society they live in, but should also contribute to the development and the well-being of their societies is a very interesting, even provocative one. The core argument, in a nutshell, boils down to the general idea that citizens also have responsibilities, duties and obligations, next to possessing individual rights. In the past half-century this idea has gradually risen to the centre stage of public debate in many western societies, something that Kennedy in the early 1960s could hardly have envisaged.
Some examples of recent debates in several European countries and beyond may illustrate this trend:
– For how long can persons who have lost their job receive unemployment benefits from local or central state agencies, and what kind of responsibility lies with the unemployed themselves? Can they be obliged to search for another job and, if so, under which conditions? Can persons with insufficient professional qualifications who receive benefits be obliged to receive training so as to improve their position on the labour market?
– In what way can public authorities impose obligations on members of non- European linguistic, cultural and religious minorities to comply with the general values and norms of the host country? More specifically, do all citizens have the right to dress the way they wish, or are certain restrictions allowed and on what grounds? Can newcomers, who are dependent on government benefits, be forced to learn the language of the host country and how?
– To what extent can or should the provision (or reimbursement) by the social security system of expensive health care treatments be made dependent on a patient's previous conduct with regard to his or her own health?