Human Rights Vs Natural Rights By Jon Holbrook

Nowadays, people claim a human right to many things. Prisoners claim a human right to vote. Convicted immigrants resisting deportation claim a human right to family life. Victims claim a human right to damages. Travellers claim a human right to roam. Benefit claimants claim a human right to welfare. The ill and infirm claim a human right to medical and social assistance. I could go on. Today, it’s fair to say that somebody wanting something can usually frame its receipt as the performance of a human right.

The essence of these human-rights claims is an assertion that the claimant has alegal right to something from the state. Whether each claim is meritorious is neither here nor there; what matters is that the claim is made on the basis of there being a human right to it. This human-rights discourse is of a recent vintage and gained currency during and after the Second World War with the publication of Hersch Lauterpacht’s influential book, An International Bill of the Rights of Man(1945), the adoption by the United Nations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the drafting of the European Convention on Human Rights (1950).

Although the human-rights discourse was in abeyance for several decades after the Second World War, it has come to the fore of legal and political thinking in recent years. In 1998, the UK Human Rights Act was passed by the Labour government with cross-party support. Even now, for all the gnashing of teeth by the Conservatives over decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, the Conservatives remain committed to the human-rights discourse; it’s just that they prefer the British to the European version. Damian Green, UK police and criminal-justice minister, recently observed that ‘there is absolutely a Conservative case for human rights’. And he directed his ire at those who seek to question the worth of human rights: ‘The whole political spectrum in this country believes in human rights. This should not be a political issue in a country like Britain.’

The consensus over human rights needs interrogating because Conservative Eurosceptic arguments over the European Convention on Human Rights are apt to confuse rather than clarify. Similarly, the Labour Party’s ‘unswerving support for the Human Rights Act’ as being ‘core to what we believe in as a party’ is usually justified with unhelpful tub thumping and a nationalistic massaging of history. So,Sadiq Khan, Labour’s shadow justice secretary, states that he is ‘enormously proud of how [human rights have] improved countless people’s lives in this country and protected hundreds of millions of citizens across Europe’. And he claims that ‘human rights are an ancient British tradition’ that dates back 800 years to Magna Carta, ‘the world’s first bill of rights’

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Posted By F. Sheikh