The Generations of Rights
First generation rights include liberty rights (civil and political rights).
Second generation rights have been described as equality rights.
Third generation rights include group rights (minority groups, solidarity, collectivism).
- There are 12,000 – 14,000 indigenous and minority groups, these groups account for approximately 1.5 billion individuals (Goodhart 261).
Outline of History and Criticisms:
- Generations of rights: first two generations primarily include individual/liberal rights. Third generation includes group/fraternal/collective rights.
- For the individual rights camp, there is the belief that the “individual human rights regime would deliver equality and make group rights largely irrelevant, except in extreme circumstances” (Goodhart 266), and has its foundation in the utlitarian philosophy of Jeremy Bentham. For Bentham, an individual’s happiness coincides with the happiness of the group, or, in other words, ‘what’s good for me is good for you’ (Moore 303).
- The rights of individuals have dominated Human Rights discourse. Group rights have begun to emerge primarily to protect minority groups from the majority, and to begin the decolonization of indigenous peoples.
- Criticisms of liberal rights emerged shortly after their theoretical creation, and have continued. Critics include:
- Karl Marx: considers rights to be the rights of the ruling ideology: the bourgeois. Individualistic rights express the division and alienation of human beings (Goodhart 94). From the Marxian perspective on liberal rights, it is explained that liberal rights
“have been denounced for presupposing as well as reinforcing artificial social divisions—between the social and the political, the public and the private—and thus for obscuring the real bases of inequality” (Baynes 452).
“In the secular state, as in religion, the individual can thus be “spiritually” or “politically” free while still bound to material unfreedom and inequalities. Both represent a form of “unactual universality” in the service of concrete inequality” (454).
- Malcolm Waters argues that “the rise of human rights cannot be explained simply through notions of human vulnerability, institutional threats, and collective sympathy, but rather by the assertion of powerful class interests” (95).
- Melville Herskovit’s (Anthropologist) emphasises that the individual rights regime, which is largely pushed by liberal states and the United Nations, are not universal, as “some cultures may exhibit more collective value systems that emphasize things like collective ownership of land rather than individual private property rights” (99).
- Human rights regimes have in many instances been ineffective in protecting the rights of minorities and marginalized groups. This has resulted in a need for group rights to emerge in national and international politics. Fundamental group rights that have entered into the UN discourse include the freedom from genocide (the right to existence), and the freedom to self-determination. Advocates of group rights continue to criticise private property rights as they exist today, and the individualistic form that universal rights discourse has taken.
4. Criticisms of group rights:
- Group rights indicate that “universal human rights” may not be universal, and have not been successful, as there is a need for group rights. This notion is troubling to Universalists.
- Concerns that group rights may take precedence, and the individual rights of people within the group may be abused (i.e. right to exit the group).
- Marx’s radical egalitarianism has been criticized for, like liberal human rights, being a normative assumption (Baynes).
- May threaten state sovereignty (i.e. indigenous peoples right to self-determination).
Late 20th and early 21st Centuries:
The group rights that have thus far been recognized have, largely, not been a hindrance to individual rights. However, documents that do include group rights have taken care to limit group rights to the point that they are often ineffective (i.e. 1960 UN Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (267)). Despite the ambivalence of declarations, progress in rhetoric, at least, is improving over time (i.e. 2007 UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted). Our relationship with the biosphere raises substantial questions about current rights and views on individual human entitlement. Indigenous groups belonging to colonised lands are often the first and the most adversely affected by industrialisation and anthropogenic affects on the biosphere and climate (this is not to argue that the decline of biodiversity and healthy ecosystems and the global overshoot will not have a serious impact on the entire species, but points out the reality of the burden paid by humans thus far has significantly been on indigenous populations). We have seen group rights begin to emerge in the global discourse through a number of UN documents, to try and alleviate the sufferings of groups who are not benefiting from the liberal rights regime. Of course, the group rights so far granted are only effective if individual states choose to grant them. Instances we have seen include:
Declaration on the Right of Peoples to Peace (UN 1984)
The Declaration on the Right to Development (UN 1986)
Article 1: 1. The right to development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized. 2. The human right to development also implies the full realization of the right of peoples to self-determination, which includes, subject to the relevant provisions of both International Covenants on Human Rights, the exercise of their inalienable right to full sovereignty over all their natural wealth and resources.
The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UN 2007)
includes right to self-determination for “dispossessed ‘peoples’ and ‘nations’ in contrast to the individual citizenship rights” given by the state.
Liberal rights in the late 20th century and early 21st has manifested in ways that include the right to hate speech, the right of media platforms to lie to the public (USA) to benefit what can be identified as the ruling class and the military-industrial complex, the right to amass concentrations of wealth and capital with few constraints. As is, the average American, in one lifetime, consumes 70 times the amount of resources and energy as one Bangladeshi (Pojman). Such a rate of consumption, even on the individual scale, in liberal democracies can, in contemporary context, be seen as detrimental to the continued existence of human habitat on earth, with a global overshoot of 1.5, and an expected rate of growth into the foreseeable future, liberal rights, as they are, pose a significant threat to the future of the our species. Within America, and globally, the gap between the propertied people and the unpropertied, between capital holders and wage labourers, unemployed and indigenous still able to subsist traditionally, widens each year. Each year the toll on the biosphere needed to sustain liberal democracies grows, without concern for what is actually needed to sustain our global population.
Baynes, Kenneth. “Rights as a Critique and the Critique of Rights: Karl Marx, Wendy Brown, and the Social Function of Rights”. Political Theory. Volume 28.4. August 2000, Pages 451-468. http://www.jstor.org/stable/192254 . Site Accessed 20 October 2012.
Goldstein, Joshua S. 2004. International Relations. Canadian Edition. Ed. Whitworth, Sandra. Toronto: Pearson Education.
Goodhart, Michael. 2009. Human Rights: Politics and Practice. New York: Oxford University Press.
Homer-Dixon, Thomas, et al. 2003. “Debating Violent Environments”.
Jones, Peter. “Human Rights, Group Rights, and Peoples’ Rights.” Human Rights Quarterly. Volume 21.1. February 1999, pages 80-107.
Marx, Karl. 1998. The German Ideology. New York: Prometheus Books.
Mill, John Stuart. 1905. Considerations on Representative Government. New York: George Routledge & Sons.
Moore, Brooke Noel, and Kenneth Bruder. 2008. Philosophy: The Power of Ideas. 7th Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Pojman, Louis P. “The Challenge of the Future: Private Property, the City, the Globe, and a Sustainable Society.” 2008. Environmental Ethics. Fifth Edition. Belmont: Wadsworth.