Traditional Human Rights Essay

596 words - 3 pages

Traditional Human Rights
Finding a definition of human rights that is agreed upon by most sovereigns, while functional and effective, should be established to assist in acknowledgment of human violations. This consensus allows for moral judgment on “action or inaction” and quick response to international crisis (Cullen, 2010). By forming the basis on traditional human rights, or negative rights, Dr. Patrick Cullen finds these to be most essential to the definition of human rights in limiting future genocide and atrocities. This opinion believes “negative rights allow for greater consensus among and between sovereigns and allow for prompt action and greater protection of human life” (Cullen, 2010). Negative human rights prohibit intrusion on individuals. These rights protect encroachment by the government or others. In so doing, violation of a negative right includes aggressively causing harm which is an act of commission (Cullen, 2010).
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Cranston maintains the “traditional human rights are political and civil rights such as the right to life, liberty, and a fair trial” (Cullen, 2010). Cranston’s objections are both philosophical and political. “The philosophical objection is the new theory of human rights is illogical. The political objection is the new theory confuses human rights and hinders protection of more actual human rights” (Cullen, 2010). Cranston details a three-part test to define authenticity of a human right: practicability, genuine universality; and paramount importance. Practicality relates to rights and duties, an individual cannot be charged with the impossible; nor can they be guaranteed the impossible. Universality applies to the right applying to everyone, not just specific groups of people or demographics. Finally, the principal importance relies on the “utilitarian philosophy which analyses moral goodness in terms of the greatest happiness for the greatest number” (Cullen, 2010).
I believe, as Cranston maintains, that the first twenty articles in the Uniform Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) impart the traditional negative rights or rights of man. The remaining ten articles are positive rights, such as a right to education and “periodic holidays with pay” (Article 24, UDHR). These economic and social positive rights cannot be translated into political and legal action and are effectively unenforceable (Cullen, 2010). Traditional negative human rights are recognized by most countries and their violations considered a disregard to justice. Many countries have agreements and support for traditional negative rights (Cullen, 2010). Even societies that are different believe in moral goodness and justice which is necessary for social order (Cullen, 2010). Limiting the definition to traditional negative human rights allows for a consensus of rules resulting in a swift response to violations and the ability to protect and save many more lives.

Works Cited

Cullen, P. (2010, July). In defense of traditional human rights. Conference paper presented at the 17th Annual Conference of the Society for Philosophy in the Contemporary World, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon. Retrieved from

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