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April 26, 2015
The monthly journal for independent thought, ethical standards and moral responsibility The international journal for independent thought, ethical standards, moral responsibility,
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Current Concerns  >  2009  >  No 2, 2009  >  The Universality of Human Rights [printversion]

The Universality of Human Rights


by Professor Dr iur Dr hc Heinrich Scholler


The universality of human rights is expressed both in the historical, vertical direction and in their horizontal, geographical spread. In all cultures, the idea of equal freedom, the idea of brotherhood and human dignity has been well received and supported, and the legal documents on the protection of human rights are the product of a long historical development, laying down a new border between the powers of the authorities and the sphere of the individual. Thus originally, human rights constituted a demarcation in political power relationships. Democratic participation and the social state concept of brotherly participation have strengthened the flow of human rights both in a historical and in a spatial direction. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of December 10, 1948, and subsequent declarations and pacts such as the International Pact on Civic and Political Rights of December 16, 1966, allow the national state to impose restrictions only to the extent permitted in an open and democratic society, often followed by the comment that this society is based or must be based on equality and peace. This created something that could be referred to as the discourse of human rights at international level. No reference is made to a specific system of restrictions in a specific country or organization, but instead to a type of open and democratic society as an abstract model. Who determines this model of an open and democratic society, the model of a society that is based on peace and justice for equality? Can it be left to the lawyers or the courts to develop the minimum standards for human rights without which there can be no question of an open and democratic society? Do these also involve social human rights? Is an open and democratic society conceivable without the fourth generation of human rights, the right to self-development, environment protection and education? This fourth generation joined the other three at the end of the 20th century, for until then there was only the concept of the basic rights as a means of defence or as active rights to participate within the framework of the first and second generation of human rights. These were followed by what were known as the third generation of basic rights, the body of social rights that was directed not only against the state but also, in their third direction, against society. With the development of instruments of protection under international public law and generally the notion that individual rights must be protected by the community of states and not by the national state, the idea of universal or regional human rights entered a new stage. It was here that the ground was broken for the idea that the individual was not only the object but also the subject of rights against the community of states in international law. War, hunger and population explosion have in the meantime become greater enemies than state dictatorships. The inequality of resources and of the standard of living in the world also constitute a new challenge to the idea of human rights. The theory of human rights is always searching for an ur-human right that could be the ultimate source of all other human rights. There is much to argue that the modern ur-human right is to be found in the twin stars of the right to life and the right to self-determination.