2 Mar

What are Human Rights?

During his inauguration on January 20, 1977, Jimmy Carter said that the commitment of the United States to human rights must be absolute. Before that most people didn’t really pay much attention to the concept of “human rights.” Except for Roosevelt mentioning the concept several times in his speeches, no president before Carter has actually discussed human rights in detail in public or has committed to protecting them.

The concept of human rights takes its roots in the concept of natural rights that goes back centuries. “The rights of man” were in the center of the revolution of democracy. However, during most of the history, rights meant something very different from what we understand today by human rights. Rights were discussed and introduced mostly to defend property and citizenship benefits.

Human rights have a lot of faces and possible uses. Today they mostly call for social concern and action, but they are still rooted in the notions of property, territory, and state. Many global organizations and corporations talk about human rights and their value, but even in today’s global governance vulnerability, poverty and inequality are widely spread.

Human rights are often violated when an organization or a state tries to transform them into a specific program that is supposed to help protect them. The problem here is that human rights often promise everything to everyone. This means that anyone can use the term to describe what they want, which is how human rights can turn into a harmful ideology.

For example, many non-governmental organizations have ambitious agendas to bring human rights to all corners of the world. They press changes with the best intentions, but the outcomes are often very different from what the organizations have envisioned prior to implementing their ideas. The concept of human rights has so far transformed the field of idealism and greater good more than it has does to the world itself, where a significant majority of the population still lives below the poverty line and hardly has any access to the necessities.