Do ‘human rights’ exist?

In a previous blog, I referred to the definition of a ‘right’ as being something to which one was entitled – something which some civic entity was obliged to provide to its citizens. Discussing ‘civil rights’, I identified the only demand on government which does not require any action by government, nor any expenditure on the services of other citizens to supply that unique right.

“The only ‘right’ or ‘entitlement’ in the contract between a citizen and his or her civil government is that the citizen can expect not to be oppressed, arrested, kidnapped, incarcerated or murdered by his or her own government. The primary (costless) duty towards its own citizens is to abstain from any such assault.” (I should, of course, have included the adverb ‘arbitrarily’, allowing for due legal process.)

What about ‘human rights’? If the unique ‘civil right’ described above relies on a contract entered into by way of citizenship of one’s own country, by what contract is a person entitled to anything from any other country?

‘Human rights’ are curiously named. Because no animal other than Homo sapiens is able to voice a demand, the noun ‘rights’ has a redundant adjective. This curious wording is widely known because of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

Some people, thinking anthropomorphically, advance the argument that they can infer what other animals want. What evidence is there that any animal wants more than can be observed in their behaviour? With which entity can any animal other than Homo sapiens be said to have entered into a contract?

“Nature, red in tooth and claw” wrote Alfred Lord Tennyson. All non-vegetarian animals (including Homo sapiens) prey on other animals and are, in turn, the prey of other animals. Little fish eat the smaller fish, big fish eat the little fish, bigger fish eat the big fish, and so it goes. We omnivores kill and eat a wide variety of animal life, and, perhaps, even other members of our own species.

We humans are not immune, not even those living in cities. The Covid-19 era in an example of that – the virus (hardly qualified as an animal) uses our bodies’ systems in order to reproduce, even if it kills us in the process. We are its prey, as are those of us living in the tropics to a variety of small animals, like worms and parasites.

Must every country be obliged, by some non-existent force majeure, to open its gates to those without citizenship? There is no contract establishing a migrant’s ‘right’ of entry between a citizen (or former citizen) of country A and the government of country B.

Whether Guatemalans wishing to enter the US or non-Jewish Africans wanting to enter Israel, this is no more than a request which the would-be host country might decide to meet, but which it is entitled to turn down. By no stretch of the imagination is any ‘right’ involved.

About the Author
Retired medical practitioner, Dr Peter Chester Arnold OAM, fled 1960s apartheid South Africa for Australia. He has since graduated in Politics, Philosophy and Economics, and has been a professional editor for more than 30 years on politics, sociology, medicine, history and Holocaust studies.