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Part III of this book focuses on the human right to have access to societies. Obviously access to societies, small and large, is important because human beings are societal beings. Every one of us is part of a particular society, and societies or communities come in many shapes and sizes.
The concept of human dignity plays a pivotal role in the Universal Declaration1 and it seems that it is emphasized as a counterpart to the ‘barbarous acts’ and the ‘degradation’ of human beings that took place, most prominently perhaps, in the German concentration and extermination camps.
Contrary to what is often thought, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights concerns not only rights and freedoms, but also duties and obligations. The final part of this book deals with these human obligation. That is appropriate because these obligations appear only at the end of the Universal Declaration. Article 29 says that everyone has duties to the community, not just for the sake of the community but also because a person cannot freely and fully develop their personality without a community.
We have finally reached the last Article of the Universal Declaration. We encountered Article 30 in , but the issues that this Article raises deserve further exploration here. This is its text: ‘Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein’.
The topic of this chapter is a short outline of the development of the modern idea of human rights as found in legal history and philosophy. Before starting, some caveats must be made. In the first place, it is obviously impossible to give the history of the idea of human rights.
While almost everyone has heard of human rights, few will have reflected in depth on what human rights are, where they originate from and what they mean. A Philosophical Introduction to Human Rights – accessibly written without being superficial – addresses these questions and provides a multifaceted introduction to legal philosophy. The point of departure is the famous 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which provides a frame for engagement with western legal philosophy. Thomas Mertens sketches the philosophical and historical background of the Declaration, discusses the ten most important human rights with the help of key philosophers, and ends by reflecting on the relationship between rights and duties. The basso continuo of the book is a particular world view derived from Immanuel Kant. 'Unsocial sociability' is what characterises humans, i.e. the tension between man's individual and social nature. Some human rights emphasize the first, others the second aspect. The tension between these two aspects plays a fundamental role in how human rights are interpreted and applied.
Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights concerns the right to life. This right is considered both the most fundamental and the most elementary of all human rights. After all, no other human right would exist without it. Life appears thus to be the most important basic good to which human beings can lay a legal claim. The right to life has a certain self-evident quality that, on closer examination, however, does not appear to be so simple. The right to life is instead a complicated right. This becomes clear when comparing the text of the Universal Declaration’s Article 3, which includes the freedom and inviolability of the person as well as the right to life, with a number of other formulations of the right to life.
Article 28 of the Universal Declaration states that ‘Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realised.’ Earlier in the Declaration, Article 25 had announced everyone’s ‘right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family’. What is ‘adequate’ here? According to the Declaration, it means a lot: not only food, clothing, shelter and medical care, but also social services and support in cases of unemployment, illness, invalidity, old age, or in case of ‘other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control’. Article 23 announces everyone’s right to work with a just and favourable remuneration so everyone can provide for themselves and their family.
In Chapter 11 we saw that Article 21 of the Universal Declaration considers the will of the people to be the basis of the authority of government. That chapter was primarily concerned with the history of the current concept of democracy and also with the question of whether democracy is possible at a level beyond that of a people and the nation state.
This chapter deals with one of the key texts regarding human rights: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.1 It briefly sketches the political and juridical circumstances in which the Declaration came into existence.2 That is why this chapter starts with the Organization of United Nations, out of which the Declaration emerged and by which it was accepted. The chapter also includes a brief look at the content of the Declaration.
The right to property will now be considered as the last of the so-called ‘negative rights’. This is obviously an important right. After all, human dignity presumes not only that a person has control of their life and their physical integrity, that they cannot be subjected to criminal procedures without a proper reason and that their physical and mental space cannot be arbitrarily invaded, but also that their property, ‘the mine and thine’, is respected. Humans must be able to have what is theirs, to support themselves, and for that they need property. Article 17 of the Universal Declaration stipulates that everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. It also declares that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of their property.
Originally philosophy meant ‘science’ or ‘love of knowledge’, and that is why classical philosophers such as Aristotle wrote about practically everything, ranging from what we would now consider to be in the realms of biology and physics, by way of logic and rhetoric, to politics, and from the good of a human being to metaphysical issues such as the world or God. More recent philosophers such as Immanuel Kant still covered a wide range of topics, as varied as geography and epistemology. With the passage of time, and particularly since what we call the scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the various constituents of ‘science’ have gradually gained independence, so that in a certain sense, philosophy has ‘shrunk’.