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Human Rights History ?Midterm Exam notes

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McMaster University
Bonny Ibhawoh

History 3XX3: Human Rights Midterm Notes Feb. 15 2012 Introduction What are Human Rights? - golden rule - Paint: Norman Rockwell diversity of the people in the painting; basic expectations of how others should treat us - trying to define human rights is problematic every human, equality, inalienable, liberty, freedom, justice, protection, guidelines, self-determination - Human rights are contingent on something: moral, legal etc.. - Guidelines of how we should treat one another but who sets the guidelines? - Definition Human Rights: The basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled simply by virtue of their humanity. These include the right to liberty and life, freedom of thought and expression and equality before the law. - Terms: HR Corpus: body of law/declarations the engine that makes human rights real HR Movement the while scope: laws, organizations etc.. HR discourse intellectual debates - UDHR: bible of human rights: the bench mark new doctrine that brought about a whole new concept 1948 - dont argue that they didnt exist before 1948 but argue so radical from proceeding historical context Thomas Pane; French Revolution; American Revolution (1/2 population were slaves; various people had no rights such as women, negroes, Jews etc); English bill of Rights (privileged/nobility) long tradition of rights but UDHR unique because contingent on just being human! (Others had to be more than just human to qualify for the rights) - Some argue that human rights did not exist before 1948 - most social science disciplines will begin study of HR at 1948 but history does not concerned with the events leading up to the UDHR so linked to the document that they cant be separated - book: The Invention of Human Rights argument that 1948 UDHR created/invented Human Rights but historians wary of using the word invention history brings continuity and change Major themes - The importance of Human Rights - The evolution of Human Rights ideas - The contradictions/paradox of HR th - 20 century age of rights but before more concentrated on privileges - Case study of cross burning on white mans property adjacent of a black familys house - Boundaries constantly negotiated gap between theory and practice: is/ought debate - NGOs most apart of the practice of HR Limitations: - Not an answer to everything; some things just belong to criminal law - Some argue they can only be HR if they can be enforced (covenant: real international law vs. declaration: piece of paper) - Human rights are very state centric they are the ones that are accountable because they are the ones who sign on. Also contested: what if there is no state? E.g. Somalia - are human rights truly universal? are human rights predominantly Western in origin? Many countries were under colonial rule at the time the UDHR was created and signed China a communal people so individual rights dont work for them (Asian values debate) Cultural relativism debate: for most part societies have different ideals of what rights are. E.g right to life = death penalty - Human rights have cultural boundaries Theoretical Debates -Positive and Negative rights: state duty to RESPECT, PROTECT and FULFILL Ive Apologized campaign: apologizing for something done in our name - Respect NEGATIVE rights the state does not have to act - POSITIVE: protections the state has to act - The right to life can be either negative or positive: no clear line amnesty international has a huge campaign against the death penalty because they believe it is a human right. - Human rights are counter majoritarian Universalism and Cultural Relativism Philosophical Debates * problematize the use of language. - The tension between universalism and cultural relativism - What is the relationship between the individual and the community? wouldnt have this debate if the UDHR didnt claim to be universal. Societies differ fundamentally in their construction and their history. Some argue as societies become more industrialized they became more individualistic - Society/culture is always changing - Asian Values debate: 60s-70s assault on HR; sceptical of document signed by many Western Nations who gave them this right? - Privileged individual rights: did not reflect less industrialized and communal societies - Which human characteristics and obligations are universal and which are relative? - Greco-roman universalism of stoic philosophers - universalism of Christian theology - universalism of enlightenment thinkers: quest for universal truths, natural rights/laws - What is the relationship between rights and obligations (duties)? Some societies you have rights not matter what; in others rights linked to duties. Eg. Group of men banned from using roads because they did not show up for work clearing/maintaining the roads therefore they cant use it village elders violated the right to freedom of movement but this is the way that society functions - want to maintain universalism of human rights but question of how - Prioritization: are certain rights more important than others? societies have the right to decide what is more important at the time by insisting on universalism is like saying that everyone should move at the same rate ( the west is dictating what stage society should be in) China at their own stage of industrial revolution so the standard of human rights is against this applying these standards during the 1940s would have been like halting the industrial revolution in Europe - dont think of cultural relativism debate as east-west or north-south debate death penalty: US and EU position - history effects rights: - claiming that the holocaust did not happen in Austria or Germany you will be thrown into jail. If this was done in Canada nothing like that would happen. Restricting freedom of speech/expression because of their history. Categories of Rights - Tension between generations if rights: 1. Liberal civil/political rights 2. Economic, social and cultural rights 3. Solidarity rights, collective rights, welfare of group, right to develop - Chastes in terms of what is most important to different societies andthe time. EG. Cold war US 1 generation rights more important but to the Soviet Union 2 generation rights were more important - Human rights can be discourse: invoke rights to justify their position - believe in rights but maybe not in this order- For intellectual purpose: makes no sense on the ground - Societies emphasize different rights at different times: waves of rights Canada most recently accessibility rights/laws - Tension between national security and human rights conscription provisoz/claw back clauses. Anything can be a national security issues such as blocking the internet - Always going to be debates. What is important is that there is an avenue to do so rights are not absolute Counter Argument - Cultural relativism is really cultural nationalism: not about people but about the nation who are those that are accusing HR as not to be universal? The peasants, minorities, abused children/women etc.. or the state? Those interested in maintaining the status quo - Even in the west very important arguments for cultural relativism - Human rights are not absolute - balancing national security and human rights - Human rights as an element of choice. France: dont believe all women want to wear nicab and are forced so they banned it for all women for those that dont have a choice - The point is not the act but the CHOICE! - problematizing choice Understanding Culture - Quotation on avenue - Time when debate on cultural relativism was very prominent - The Bangkok Declaration - Limitations of generalization western, Asian and African - Culture is fluid and dynamic - Level of culture ethnic, regional, national, continental, economic cultures - What a
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