Modern Human Rights System

1147 Words 5 Pages
Although the modern human rights system was officially established with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948, the concept and discourse of rights have a much longer history of conception and contestation. Yet despite advances in recognizing the rights of some, there were always other humans who were excluded. Sometimes such exclusion from rights was explicit and intended; other times it was just taken for granted as the natural order of society and civilization. In particular, the emergence of the modern construction of race and racial slavery, the rise of modern colonialism and nationalism, and the struggle for women’s rights all reveal the contradictory nature of pre-1948 rights thought and progress. While slavery had …show more content…
In the American context, the Emancipation Proclamation may have officially freed many African Americans from slavery, but most definitely did not lead to the end of systemic racism (Lincoln, 1862). Many African Americans and other people of color in the United States faced a deficiency in both positive and negative rights; not only did they experience institutionalized legal discrimination, but many people of color also faced severe employment discrimination and lack of access to quality housing and education, among other ills. While it was not just people of color that suffered from the lack of these positive rights, it is important to understand that having access to these positive rights often served as a conduit for negative rights, empowering people with the power and the means to fight for their rights. Thus, the lack of protection of both positive rights and negative rights for people of color revealed their status as second-class citizens (Watenpaugh, …show more content…
It is a fundamental question feminist lawyer Catharine MacKinnon poses in her aptly-titled book, “Are Women Human?” Many proclamations of rights, such as France’s The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen state that “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights,” (The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, 1789). Along with the aforementioned U.S. Declaration of Independence, with its creed “all men are created equal,” humanity is described as “men” or “man,” and individuals “he” or “him,” (Declaration of Independence, 1776). While this paper is not arguing that such use of language was always intentionally used to specifically exclude women, sometimes this was the case, and women were excluded from enjoying basic rights that were granted to men. For example, Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher who has unquestionably contributed to ideas about democracy and society, argued that women, along with people such as servants or apprentices, deserved freedom and equality as human beings, but because they were dependent on others for employment or survival, they were “passive citizens” who had no “civil personality” and were thus unfit to vote. Kant did argue that these “passive citizens” could work their way up to gain the right to vote (Kant, 153-154). However, as explored

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