Who Decides What Human Rights Are?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Syrian men react during a reported air strike by government forces in Aleppo on July 15, 2014. More than 170,000 people have been killed in the three-year Syrian war, one third of them civilians. Syrian men react during a reported air strike by government forces in Aleppo on July 15, 2014. More than 170,000 people have been killed in the three-year Syrian war, one third of them civilians. (AHMED DEEB/AFP/Getty Images/Getty)

What are the origins of human rights? In recent years, this question has become a major focus of historical and ideological debate. Law professor Samuel Moyn explores the past, present, and future of the politics of human rights and talks about when humanitarian intervention is justified. He’s the author of the book  Human Rights and the Uses of History.


Samuel Moyn

Comments [10]

B. Real from NYC

Answer: Whoever has the most money, bombs and cheap labor.

Aug. 14 2014 01:43 PM

The term "civil rights" was the term used here in the US because as your guest says, it was our Constitution that was the document that we appealed to as we saw it as the pinnacle expression of enlightened humanity. The term "human rights" transcends Americanism and the Constitution and therefore part of American "exceptionalism" dictated an indifference if not disdain to foreign concepts of rights.
"Human rights" as a term is European in origin and we pit ourselves historically as morally superior to Europe. Part of globalism is the US adoption of the trans national concept "human rights". Of course all people everywhere have had an innate knowledge that they have rights by virtue of being human and revolutions, upheavals throughout history ,have been expressions of our innate belief that we have rights.

Aug. 14 2014 12:47 PM
emily from SI

I was raised (WW2 parents) to understand that 'there are no rights without responsibilities', something that I really think has been not dealt with in the public conversation. Whenever 'rights' are mentioned, only 'rules & regulations' as if government is only evil, gets mentioned, but not the responsibilities of a civil society (unless you're a 'well just say no/just don't do that, it's easy!' kind of person).
Is this generational, even if you are legally, as a corporation > a 'person'?

Aug. 14 2014 12:40 PM
Lenore from Manhattan

Ecuador has in its constitution the Rights of Nature. There is quite a bit about this on the web. There have been cases that are currently in progress to enforce these rights. You could look it up. It's a serious concept.

Aug. 14 2014 12:39 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

The actual source of human rights in the West was the Hebrew prophets in the Bible.
Even slaves had certain rights in the Bible, such as a sabbath day and the right to freedom after 7 years of servitude unless the slave chose to remain in the service of his master. And even a slave could not be summrily killed. Even the King was not above the law. And there were no gladiatorial bouts to the death. No killing for sport.

Aug. 14 2014 12:27 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

I think we should get our laws about human rights from the Koran and Sharia law.

Aug. 14 2014 12:06 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

To Oscar

An account by Raymond Caffeta, a policeman tesitifying about the Hebron Massacre of 1929:

"On hearing screams in a room, I went up a sort of tunnel passage and saw an Arab in the act of cutting off a (Jewish) child's head with a sword. He had already hit him and was having another cut, but on seeing me he tried to aim the stroke at me, but missed; he was practically on the muzzle of my rifle. I shot him low in the groin. Behind him was a Jewish woman smothered in blood with a man I recognized as a[n Arab] police constable named Issa Sheriff from Jaffa. He was standing over the woman with a dagger in his hand. He saw me and bolted into a room close by and tried to shut me out-shouting in Arabic, "Your Honor, I am a policeman." ... I got into the room and shot him.[18][34][35]"

Aug. 14 2014 12:05 PM
Ed from Larchmont

Of course, for Catholics, human rights are given by God. This is true even to the extent that if a government makes a law that abridges real human rights, it is an illegitimate law. The government just protects and defends the rights human beings have.

Aug. 14 2014 10:58 AM
Ed from Larchmont

This is a basic question that is contended today: do our human rights come from God (as the Declaration of Independence states, so they can't be taken away), or are the given by the government (in which case they can be taken away, or never given)?

Aug. 14 2014 10:56 AM
oscar from ny

We the ppl decide..we the ppl should have an understanding the common law, to have sence of just, most ppl don't understand this because they are too preoccupied with the world and Satan leads them this world reminds me of the wizard of oz, the leaders are like those bewildered by fantasy, one our leader is like the lion, Russia is like the tinman and Israel is like the scarecrow ..they skip singing and dancing to Satan who has no power over our lord, all we find ourselves in a state of perpetual delirium.. I hear the Palestine's cry because no one helps them ..I recall a story of when the Jews were oppressed by Pharaoh from Egypt and the lord sent them Moses and they made an Exodus to become free , why isn't one Palestine gathering the ppl and fleeing , when one is not welcomed than retrieve ..I recall Jesus stating that the stone the builders rejected has become the capstone so Muslims have abandoned the lord and their land and you can't take it back, so leave make a crazy move or live the way your living which is death.
Also if leaders need to understand how to do this, listen to Martin Luther king listen how he freed his ppl, have a templet of justice, how can anyone deny your destiny..
PS: funny this governor we have in NY too busy for anything, if he wanted to make a statement he should've gone to the Gaza strip or Africa or better the Ukraine smh

Aug. 14 2014 10:18 AM

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