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What it takes for human rights to be respected

Reading Time: 2 minutes

To have human rights respected, they must appear reasonable and feasible. They need to be matched by human responsibilities and societal rights, and rights must be enforceable.

  1. If a right is not considered reasonable, it will be ignored, often with wider damage to the concept of what human rights are. It is no good, for a silly example, demanding that every adult under 1.2 metres (4 feet) tall is given free stilts to make them taller: this would be laughed at and ridiculed in most societies as being impractical, of no help and just plain silly.
  2. If a right is not feasible, it cannot be implemented and this can damage the respect for any group of rights to which it belongs. To take a serious example, the UDHR requires all young children to be given a free education. That was written back in 1948, at a time when most of the world simply could not afford to pay for a ‘free’ education for children, and those nations who could afford it — and drew up the ‘right’ — were not willing to pay for it to happen either.
  3. A right to something without an implied or expressed responsibility to match it can lead to a damaged society that ultimately will stop respecting the right. (It works the other way, too: imposing responsibility without a compensating right will eventually lead to strife.) This is a long-term damage: the USSR, for example, managed to exist for several decades despite messing this part up badly.
  4. Rights of the society — respect for its culture, past, traditions and laws — and rights of the individual need to be matched. The very balance between social morals and individual ethics (by which I mean non-conforming behaviours, since those are the only point of friction) is itself able to be defined only by the society, which is changed by pressure of the individuals within it. The individual should respect the society he lives within, and the society should tolerate the individual. A consistent failure to do so on either part leads to tyranny on the one hand, and chaotic anarchy on the other.
  5. Any right that is not enforced is not a right. This is why some philosophers will say that a right is only what someone can make it. But to have the right for everyone to have a trip to the moon (or to have an education) without the ability to make it happen is not a right, it is a desire, or maybe an ethical stance. Society normally enforces rights for us but if they don’t or can’t then people must either enforce it themselves or it is not a right.

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