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Human rights (natural rights) are rights which some hold to be "inalienable"
and belonging to all humans; according to natural law. Such rights are
believed, by proponents, to be necessary for freedom and the maintenance of
a "reasonable" quality of life.
Inalienable rights cannot be bestowed, granted, limited, bartered away, or
sold away (eg, one cannot sell oneself into slavery). Inalienable rights can
only be secured...or violated.
Human rights can be divided into two categories; positive and negative human
rights. Every negative human right can be expressed as a positive human
right, but not vice versa. For example, the right of a newborn to a caring
parent can only be expressed positively.
Positive human rights follow mainly from the Rousseauian Continental legal
tradition, and are things to which every person is entitled and for which
every state is obligated. Examples of such rights (not all are universally
agreed upon) include: the rights to education, to a livelihood, to private
property, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and legal equality.
Positive rights have been codified in the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights and in many 20th century constitutions.
Negative human rights follow mainly from the Anglo-American legal tradition,
and are rights which denote actions that a government should not take. These
are codified in the United States Bill of Rights and the English Bill of
Rights and include freedoms of speech, religion and assembly.
There are a number of theories of where rights come from. The theory
espoused by the US Declaration of Independence and ingrained in
Anglo-American legal thought is that rights arise from natural law. This
theory is considered antiquated in moral philosophy.
There are a number of controversies regarding human rights. One is what
rights are included as fundamental human rights, or even if there is such a
thing. Another controversy is how best to enforce human rights and in
particular the relationship between human rights and national sovereignty.
One point of view is that human rights are universal and therefore it is
proper for any national to attempt to enforce human rights through
international courts or domestic law. The opposing view is that having human
rights override national sovereignty is a form of imperialism in which
powerful countries dictate which rights they consider most important against
less powerful countries.
Modern Liberal Definition of Human Rights
Within the modern American liberal political culture, basic human rights are
defined as those which can be upheld in a society which follows two basic rules:
* All individuals should be allowed to act in any way they choose
providing that in doing so they do not prohibit other individuals from
that same privilege.
* All individuals must take responsibility for the repercussions of their
Unfortunately these ideals would seemingly exist only in a utopian society,
and thus it is a very difficult plan of action indeed.
Hate Crimes Laws
With the advent of the concept of human rights, various countries have
attempted to enact laws against what are called hate crimes. A hate crime is
defined as a crime committed with direct influence by the minority status of
the victim. A hate crime law would bring greater penalty to the perpetrator
based on the hateful intent.
Conservatives in the United States often oppose hate crime laws, stating
that imposing a greater penaty on an act committed in hate would thus make
hating illegal. They feel this to be a direct infringement on First
Liberals often support hate crime laws, stating that by enacting them
individuals would face greater discouragement from committing hate crimes.
They also point out that all laws are subjective, and that if society can
determine that one crime deserves more punishment than another (ie: murder
vs. involuntary manslaughter,) then it can also determine what motivations
deserve more stringent punishments.