Are Human Rights Universal? – Essay

The concept of Universal Human Rights is a fairly new conception in human history. Rights are not the same thing as social or cultural norms, which can be used to oppress minority interest and be fundamentally unfair to individuals. The beginnings of this concept can be traced back to the Enlightenment Era of the mid 17th through the 18th century.

The formal international consensus of this idea did not take effect until after World War II, when the United Nations (U.N.) adapted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on December 10, 1948 establishing an international standard of human rights. Although the majority of member nations of the U.N. agreed on this resolution, there where nations that argued against it. Thus the question still persist today, Are human rights universal? I believe that they are. Introduction

Humans use morals and ethics to determine “right” from “wrong” on an individual as well as a cultural basis. An individual belief of right and wrong is derived from life long experiences; and influenced by culture, religion, parents, schools, relationships, etc. Cultural beliefs of right and wrong are a consensus of those beliefs in a nation or region, which can, and do vary widely between different cultures.

These concepts also vary over time periods, influenced by new technologies, new concepts, and new laws, as well as intercultural influences. People continue to debate the question of right and wrong, and disagreements still persist. It is the study of ethics and ethical theories that helps to understand our differences and gives some insight as to how to overcome those differences. However, as stated in Ethics & social Responsibility, by Kurt Mosser, “The study of ethics can be frustrating at times, largely because the problems ethics deals with rarely lead to a result with which everyone is satisfied”. This statement alone would seem to indicate that universal human rights could never be agreed upon (Mosser, 2010). HISTORY OF UNIVERSAL HUMAN RIGHTS

The idea of human rights is not universal; it is a product of the Enlightenment Era of 17th and 18th century Europe. Before that time, the earliest rules of behavior dealt with prohibiting or recommending behaviors that where likely to reduce conflict. The major religions of the world, as well as some great lawmakers, such as Justinian, of the Roman Empire, sought to establish moral codes of conduct based on divine law.

These codes contained profound ideas on the dignity of human beings; and the obligations and duties of man to his fellow human beings, nature, and God. The framework of these laws, rules, and codes emphasized duties and privileges that arose from peoples’ status or relationships, rather than abstract rights that would later become known as “natural rights” or “rights of man” (Rayner,M).

During the 17th century natural or moral rights became part of the political agenda. Attention moved from social responsibilities to the individual’s needs and it was seen as fundamental to the well-being of society. The protection of the people’s rights became a tremendous cause in 17th century England. The ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 led to the English Bill of Rights, in 1689. It was argued by philosopher John Locke, that it was part of God’s natural law that no-one should harm anybody else in their life, health, liberty or possessions.

This thinking underlay the American colonies’ Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens in 1788, as a result of the French Revolution. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR, 1948), is probably the greatest 20th century statement of ‘natural’ or human rights. There are many nations have, and continue to be more, that incorporated rights into their national constitutions – acknowledging that the rights exist, not that they are created by their laws (Rayner, M).

My ArgumentsLike Lenn Goodman, I too believe that there are “universal human rights” to which everyone is entitled. As is evidenced by the paragraphs above, many modern world cultures would agree that there are basic universal human rights that should not be taken away. If this statement is taken to be true, then it is inferred that there are universal human wrongs that should not be allowed. The latter is the reasoning behind the U.N. backing of peace keeping forces in countries that are considered to be intruding on the universal human rights of their citizens.

This in and of itself is not proof of these rights, but is evidence of a growing acceptance of moral “intuition” that we all hold and share with others. Although not having any specific argument or reasoning for it, we all have the gut feeling or belief of when something is right or wrong. Goodman gives examples of many universal “wrongs” that induce an immediate “intuition” of an act that is wrong, such as: genocide, germ warfare, child warriors, slavery, incest, rape, and physical mutilations like clitoridectomy (Goodman, 2010).

I can not see a valid argument for any of these human rights violations, although they all continue to exist because of the fallacies in human nature. An example of a wrong was committed recently in my area. An HIV positive man raped his six month old son, knowing he was infected with HIV. He is being charged with two counts of rape, and one count of felonious assault (Walton, July 3, 2011). This is one of those instances when you have a gut reaction that it is “wrong” when you hear about it. How could there be a justification for such an act? After this story broke it was posted on a website,, causing a flood of calls from all over the country.

Callers expressed outrage at the assumed minimal imprisonment for this crime, insisting that he should be charged with attempted murder or murder. Others stated he should be given the death penalty or just taken out and shot. There are even instances of callers stating that if they see him they will kill him their self (Walton, July 4, 2011). This shows the ethical and moral outrage that can occur over issues of human rights, when many feel the laws are unjust in their relation to this type of atrocity. Conclusion

Although I cannot argue as eloquently and concisely as Professor Goodman, I can whole heartedly agree with her statements and conclusions. Ethical and moral dilemmas will persist as long as there are humans to debate them, but the establishment of “Universal Human Rights” is something that I believe is possible to achieve. Just look how far we have come in the last sixty years. The effects of globalization into a world economy will further push these rights through financial pressures. It may take some time but I am confident that the human race can achieve this goal.

ReferencesGoodman, L. E. (2010). Some Moral Minima. Good Society Journal, 19(1), 87-94. Retrieved from EBSCOhost. Mosser, K. (2010). Introduction to ethics and social responsibility. San Diego, Bridgepoint Education, Inc. Retrieved from Rayner, M. (n.d.). HISTORY OF UNIVERSAL HUMAN RIGHTS – UP TO WW2. Retrieved from

Walton, J. (2011, July 3). HIV positive man arrested for allegedly raping son [Newsgroup message]. Retrieved from WCOP News: h-i-v-positive-man-arrested-for-allegedly-raping-sonWCPO

Walton, J. (2011, July 4). Silverton Police receive dozens of calls after story of HIV rape of baby goes viral [Newsgroup message]. Retrieved from WCPO NEWS: region_central_cincinnati/downtown/ silverton-police-receive-dozens-of-calls-after-story-of-hiv-rape-of-baby-goes-viral