‘Natural rights is simple nonsense, natural and imprescriptible rights, rhetorical nonsense, — nonsense upon stilts.’ Thus wrote the English political and legal philosopher Jeremy Bentham two centuries ago. Yet the signatories of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights did not consider human rights to be nonsense. That document speaks of the ‘recognition of the … inalienable rights of all members of the human family’. When the representatives of the members of the United Nations signed the Declaration in 1948, they pledged ‘every individual and every organ of society … to promote respect for those rights and freedoms and … to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance’. If the notion of human rights is not arrant nonsense, two main questions arise for us. These are: what are the rights which all human beings should be able to enjoy; and what can the community of nations do to try to ensure that they are observed?
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