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Human Rights


JustinW
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I have been musing over the legitamacy of "human rights" after running into the term on several occasions throughout different conversations. Questions always come to mind such as ; What are human rights? Who decides what rights to give? And if they are legitimate or not? Can human rights only be given by those who hold the greatest power over those to whom the rights are given? If human rights are given with the intent of good intentions can and will it disperrage others who feel differently, thereby conflicting with their want of certain rights?

 

In the constitution of the United States it speaks of God given rights. These rights can also be infringed upon by a power that is greater than the people who claim these rights. So the question remains. Is there such a thing as human rights as being self evident or is it just a gift of those who hold power?

 

This was most recently brought up in a conversation on prisoners of war. It was said by others that a prisoner of war had rights. But my first thought was that that depended on who held the prisoner. That a prisoners rights are determined by the captor? People argue about where the line is crossed. I'm wondering who draws the line in the first place. I am also wondering if human rights were to be such a thing there would have to be a world government to police these rights. I know that the U.N. has touched on this subject before, but they hardly qualify as a world government able to ensure such rights, even with the policing they are apart of around the world.

 

I would like to have a dialect on this that may bring me to a better understand of "human rights" and if they are feasable or just a bunch of babble for people to bicker about.

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This was along the lines of my thoughts on the subject. Strength determines the rules and adherance of those rules. So can one use the infringement of "human rights" to a make a ligitamate argument about the treatment of POW's?

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This was along the lines of my thoughts on the subject. Strength determines the rules and adherance of those rules. So can one use the infringement of "human rights" to a make a ligitamate argument about the treatment of POW's?

I certainly think so. If one body (say, the UN) grants more rights to the prisoners at Guantanamo than another body (say, the US) then the UN could certainly make a legitimate argument about the treatment of those POWs. But the problem the UN has is guaranteeing those rights. They can use political influence, economic influence, moral outrage, and even force. But as you pointed out, the group with the most power, usually the captor, can enforce his view.

 

I'm sure many people think that the citizens of North Korea should have more rights than they do, but unless someone can enforce those rights, from a practical standpoint they will continue to have only those rights granted by the North Korean government.

Edited by zapatos
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The problem with Human Rights is not about Rights, it is about Human.

 

It is easy to decide who is human and who is not.

I recall the first page of my daughter's religion book: "Human is the one who believes in God."

When things go well there is no big problem (except for atheists) because God can be understood as Yahweh, Allah, Vishnu, no matter.

But when things don't go well, God becomes "our God", and all other people become no-humans, without rights of course: simply animals.

And you don't even need to be religious to refuse humanity to some people. 17th century esclavagism is another example. There is another example from the middle 20th century. And I suppose more recent massacres of civil population in Africa are based on the same principles: they were not humans to the killers.

Edited by michel123456
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Human rights are those rights, privileges, and guarantees that accrue to an individual merely through his or her being and existence - they are based on an acceptance of a lowest level of treatment for fellow human being and founded on the concept of a shared and equal humanity and dignity. They can be enshrined in law and in constitution or they can stand alone; those that are enshrined within law will sometimes be thought of more as constitutional rights, legal rights or citizen's right.

 

Human beings continue to have those rights even in situations in which they are denied them. It was hoped by many of the founders of the great constitutions and declarations that peoples would see these rights as self-evident and in other circumstances they have been enshrined in law. If you believe that only those who can defend themselves by force of arms are entitled to rights then nothing will convince you otherwise - but many people believe that the larger society should protect the weak from the strong, and defend the individual from strength of the state.

 

Human rights are not God given - have a quick search of the US Constitution, Bill of Rights and other amendments and you won't find too many mentions of God. You will however find the most amazing preamble that highlights the shared humanity and desire to further the people through joint enterprise

We the People of the
, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

 

Before the signing of the Geneva Conventions the treatment of POWs was very much governed by who was doing the emprisoning. To avoid captives being used as bargaining chips, or even worse killed out of hand, the convening high powers of the Geneva Conventions laid down rules for the treatment of prisoners. Those who signed the convention did not receive a guarantee that their soldiers would be treated well - in fact what they did was provide a promise that they themselves would treat foreign prisoners well. In this way - and once enough people sign up - POWs start to be able to rely upon a minimum standard of treatment by their captors. During the "war on terror" the USA decided that they would prefer not to be bound by the rules and promises of the Geneva Conventions; the illegal enemy combatant pretence, the siting of the prisoner camp in an offshore location of dubious nationality, and the ousting of civilian courts/courts martial from jurisdiction all bear testament to a deliberate campaign to be free from the burdens of treating POWs humanely.

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Human rights are those rights, privileges, and guarantees that accrue to an individual merely through his or her being and existence - they are based on an acceptance of a lowest level of treatment for fellow human being and founded on the concept of a shared and equal humanity and dignity. They can be enshrined in law and in constitution or they can stand alone; those that are enshrined within law will sometimes be thought of more as constitutional rights, legal rights or citizen's right.

I believe concept is the key word here. The acceptance of the lowest level of treatment will only work if the one holding the gun accepts the limitation. But as zapatos mentioned the choice of morallity is on the one with the most influence whether it be power, political influence, or control of commerce, etc...

 

Human beings continue to have those rights even in situations in which they are denied them. It was hoped by many of the founders of the great constitutions and declarations that peoples would see these rights as self-evident and in other circumstances they have been enshrined in law. If you believe that only those who can defend themselves by force of arms are entitled to rights then nothing will convince you otherwise - but many people believe that the larger society should protect the weak from the strong, and defend the individual from strength of the state.

 

How can one still have a right when that right can be denied. Again like zapato had mentioned, it is not only those that can defend by force, but those with the weight to influence. It doesn't necessarily mean power of force. The U.N. uses it's influence all the time without force. But yes, if some are stubborn it ultimately will come down to a show of force. Many people may believe it's up to the larger society to defend the defenseless, but the rest of the world doesn't feel that way to the degree of doing something about it. There are too many examples around the world to think otherwise.

 

Before the signing of the Geneva Conventions the treatment of POWs was very much governed by who was doing the emprisoning. To avoid captives being used as bargaining chips, or even worse killed out of hand, the convening high powers of the Geneva Conventions laid down rules for the treatment of prisoners. Those who signed the convention did not receive a guarantee that their soldiers would be treated well - in fact what they did was provide a promise that they themselves would treat foreign prisoners well. In this way - and once enough people sign up - POWs start to be able to rely upon a minimum standard of treatment by their captors. During the "war on terror" the USA decided that they would prefer not to be bound by the rules and promises of the Geneva Conventions; the illegal enemy combatant pretence, the siting of the prisoner camp in an offshore location of dubious nationality, and the ousting of civilian courts/courts martial from jurisdiction all bear testament to a deliberate campaign to be free from the burdens of treating POWs humanely.

I think this could get us into another debate entirely. First it would have to be debated if the authorized treatment of those prisoners can be concidered inhumane. And what rights were broken in the treatment of those prisoners.

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Human beings continue to have those rights even in situations in which they are denied them. It was hoped by many of the founders of the great constitutions and declarations that peoples would see these rights as self-evident and in other circumstances they have been enshrined in law. If you believe that only those who can defend themselves by force of arms are entitled to rights then nothing will convince you otherwise - but many people believe that the larger society should protect the weak from the strong, and defend the individual from strength of the state.

I am unsure if you are implying that anyone in this thread has so far suggested that only those who can defend themselves by force of arms are entitled to rights, but that is certainly not my position. But being entitled to rights and being able to exercise rights are two different things. As a practical matter, a right that I have but cannot exercise is no more valuable than having no right at all.

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I believe concept is the key word here. The acceptance of the lowest level of treatment will only work if the one holding the gun accepts the limitation. But as zapatos mentioned the choice of morallity is on the one with the most influence whether it be power, political influence, or control of commerce, etc...

No- there is a theoretical, moral, ethical argument that does not need to engage with the ability for the result of that argument to be implemented. I believe that all children should be educated in a balanced and non-ideological system - that is completely impossible at present, that it is impossible makes no difference to my belief, the argument I would make to support that belief, or the validity of that argument.

 

 

How can one still have a right when that right can be denied. Again like zapato had mentioned, it is not only those that can defend by force, but those with the weight to influence. It doesn't necessarily mean power of force. The U.N. uses it's influence all the time without force. But yes, if some are stubborn it ultimately will come down to a show of force. Many people may believe it's up to the larger society to defend the defenseless, but the rest of the world doesn't feel that way to the degree of doing something about it. There are too many examples around the world to think otherwise.
The UN uses force pretty often. With respect we are talking about the United States - and no country is in a position to force the USA to do anything (yet); but the fact remains that for most of the 20th century the USA was at the forefront of developing international accords and treaties that bound the signatories (or that were persuasive to the signatories) and dealt with setting lowest standards of treatment, human rights, protecting the dignity of man etc. The fact that the USA has started to distance itself from these obligations, promises, decisions is worrying and indicative of a greater insularity and, in my opinion a moving away from the ideals that founded the USA.

 

I think this could get us into another debate entirely. First it would have to be debated if the authorized treatment of those prisoners can be concidered inhumane. And what rights were broken in the treatment of those prisoners.
As I have already explained the Supreme Court ha already concluded that this is the fact; the treatment of prisoners, the setting up of military commissions, the use of torture, the ousting of civilian courts/courts martial etc are all outside that which would be expected from a member of the geneva conventions (since 1882), the drafters of the UNCHR, the most important state in the UN ...
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No- there is a theoretical, moral, ethical argument that does not need to engage with the ability for the result of that argument to be implemented. I believe that all children should be educated in a balanced and non-ideological system - that is completely impossible at present, that it is impossible makes no difference to my belief, the argument I would make to support that belief, or the validity of that argument.

I hold the same belief on child education, and all of academia for that matter. Universities lean hard toward certain ideologies too. Although it could be said that it's been that way for a long time.

As far as the moral and ethical argument goes, there is always and has always been such an argument. But the point I was trying to make was that in reality, just because things SHOULD be a certain way doesn't mean that they ARE that way. So just because they ought to have rights doesn't mean they have them.

 

The UN uses force pretty often. With respect we are talking about the United States - and no country is in a position to force the USA to do anything (yet); but the fact remains that for most of the 20th century the USA was at the forefront of developing international accords and treaties that bound the signatories (or that were persuasive to the signatories) and dealt with setting lowest standards of treatment, human rights, protecting the dignity of man etc. The fact that the USA has started to distance itself from these obligations, promises, decisions is worrying and indicative of a greater insularity and, in my opinion a moving away from the ideals that founded the USA.

The UN does use force pretty often and that force is backed and funded on large by the US. My point there was about the tactics that can be applied without the use of force. It might have been a bad analogy on my part about the one holding the gun, but in reality it is ultimately true.

 

As I have already explained the Supreme Court ha already concluded that this is the fact; the treatment of prisoners, the setting up of military commissions, the use of torture, the ousting of civilian courts/courts martial etc are all outside that which would be expected from a member of the geneva conventions (since 1882), the drafters of the UNCHR, the most important state in the UN ...

The part I have bolded was the part in which I didn't really agree. I don't believe making someone uncomfortable should be classified as torture. If we were to start breaking bones or cutting peoples heads off, (like some of our current enemies have done in recent past) I would say it's torture. Civil courts are in place for criminal acts. As both sides have DECLARED war, I would say that it is beyond criminal, and there for in the jurisdiction of the military.

Even with all of that I still believe we are and will remain in the forefront of protecting the treatment of those around the world.

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The part I have bolded was the part in which I didn't really agree. I don't believe making someone uncomfortable should be classified as torture. If we were to start breaking bones or cutting peoples heads off, (like some of our current enemies have done in recent past) I would say it's torture. Civil courts are in place for criminal acts. As both sides have DECLARED war, I would say that it is beyond criminal, and there for in the jurisdiction of the military.

Even with all of that I still believe we are and will remain in the forefront of protecting the treatment of those around the world.

 

The definition of torture under the UNCHR and the Geneva Conventions is not a matter for signatory states - it is a matter for the convention. This was highlighted by SCOTUS in Hamdan.

 

Cutting heads off is not normally torture - normally murder. Virtually no one o/s USA and few inside see waterboarding as anything but torture - the whole DTA MCA fandango was set up because the executive knew that they needed to redefine torture to take the acts they were already doing outside the general definition.

 

Civilian courts within the USA hold jurisdiction for determination of constitutional rights. DTA and MCA both tried to oust this jurisdiction.

 

Military Courts are part of Geneva, UNCHR etc and in America that means the courts martial system - the point is that even the Courts Martial were ousted to make room for Military Commissions

 

Your last sentence is why this is important - the USA has long been a bastion of rights, but this has started to change and that is very worrying. No one else has the might and the will to promote a jurisdiction of rights and the dignity of man; and it will be a very sad day for humanity if the USA lose this reputation for the sake of short term populism.

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Civilian courts within the USA hold jurisdiction for determination of constitutional rights. DTA and MCA both tried to oust this jurisdiction.

The U.S. constitution is not a World constitution and so doesn't apply to foreign nationals. Only to provide protection for those who live under it. The department of defense has the jurisdiction. The only law under the geneva convention that prisoners at guantanamo bay applied was article 3. That I didn't agree with either and didn't think it fully applied to our cituation. Not to mention that humane and war only conflict with each other. War is ugly no matter who is fighting and is impossible to be humane by definition.

 

I do concede on the point that cutting a head off would be murder, not torture. But personally I would rather be put in a position to be uncomfortable than have my head cut off.

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The U.S. constitution is not a World constitution and so doesn't apply to foreign nationals. Only to provide protection for those who live under it. The department of defense has the jurisdiction. The only law under the geneva convention that prisoners at guantanamo bay applied was article 3. That I didn't agree with either and didn't think it fully applied to our cituation. Not to mention that humane and war only conflict with each other. War is ugly no matter who is fighting and is impossible to be humane by definition.

 

Right.

War is an offense.

Ban war, make it illegal. Condamn both parties.

I wait to see humanity enter a new era, where people read history with astonishment, learning how entire nations exterminated other ones, killing, bombing, raping, humiliating, torturing, stealing.

I wait to see nations behave as regular citizens discussing without the threat of weapons, not lying, not spying.

I must be naive.

 

 

I do concede on the point that cutting a head off would be murder, not torture. But personally I would rather be put in a position to be uncomfortable than have my head cut off.

You should take some time reading about torture.

Edited by michel123456
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You should take some time reading about torture.

I was commenting on the use of "torture" by the U.S. at Guantanamo. I don't believe it should be labeled as such. All the techniques used were to either scare or to make someone uncomfortable. If we started breaking their bones or spilling blood to get information during an interrogation, I would concede to the fact that it would be torture. But what I've heard so far on the subject only amounts to annoying a prisoner into giving up information. War is brutal. The more brutal a war is, the quicker it is over. I think it was General Patton who said that and I believe it holds true.

 

It might be a naive notion for peace around the world, but the idea is commendable. There will always be conflict as long as two people remain on this earth. Banning war is impossible. When enough people are prepared to give up there lives for a cause, there is little anyone can do to change it. Putting a ban on war around the world would take a new world order that can dominate and police every country. That in itself would insight global war. One man's good intentions can become another man's nightmare. The best we can hope for is that our society, when in conflict, does it for the right reasons.

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I was commenting on the use of "torture" by the U.S. at Guantanamo. I don't believe it should be labeled as such. All the techniques used were to either scare or to make someone uncomfortable. If we started breaking their bones or spilling blood to get information during an interrogation, I would concede to the fact that it would be torture. But what I've heard so far on the subject only amounts to annoying a prisoner into giving up information. War is brutal. The more brutal a war is, the quicker it is over. I think it was General Patton who said that and I believe it holds true.

 

It might be a naive notion for peace around the world, but the idea is commendable. There will always be conflict as long as two people remain on this earth. Banning war is impossible. When enough people are prepared to give up there lives for a cause, there is little anyone can do to change it. Putting a ban on war around the world would take a new world order that can dominate and police every country. That in itself would insight global war. One man's good intentions can become another man's nightmare. The best we can hope for is that our society, when in conflict, does it for the right reasons.

 

I disagree with both paragraphs.

_war is a failure. War is wrong. The main problem with those 2 affirmations is that the monumental majority of the people who agree on this have died. They died at war, or they survived and died after. Some other people cannot perceive the horror and profound injustice of war, maybe because they think they are on the right side. But at war there is no right side. There is fire, there is pain, there is death. The only ones who gain something from war don't participate to war. These are a few, they don't spend their time on this kind of Forum.

Conflicts can be resolved with peaceful processes. We are not in the wild west anymore where everyone walks the streets with a loaded revolver at hand (or are we?), I think its time for nations to act as the individuals ought to do.

 

_As for Guantanamo, one cannot even parallelize with the procedures of the soviet communists because at guantanamo there is not even a fake trial. You must have missed L'aveu, based on the real life of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artur_London. These are experiences I wish not to my worst enemy.

In other words, we have seen that before. And I am ashamed.

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_

_war is a failure. War is wrong. The main problem with those 2 affirmations is that the monumental majority of the people who agree on this have died. They died at war, or they survived and died after. Some other people cannot perceive the horror and profound injustice of war, maybe because they think they are on the right side. But at war there is no right side. There is fire, there is pain, there is death. The only ones who gain something from war don't participate to war. These are a few, they don't spend their time on this kind of Forum.

Conflicts can be resolved with peaceful processes. We are not in the wild west anymore where everyone walks the streets with a loaded revolver at hand (or are we?), I think its time for nations to act as the individuals ought to do.

War may be wrong, and sure conflicts can be solved by peacefull means. Sadly the way things should be and the way things are are two different realities. You can say that we should condemn war but war(or at least conflict) is still there and will always be. So should we turn our heads to reality and nit pick the reality of war just because we think it's wrong. It's like the topic of this thread. Human rights are something we all feel should be a reality, but is it? Were we to sit around putting sanctions on Hitler while he kept slaughtering by the millions. War may be wrong, and we know we should find more peacefull solutions I we are able, but I wouldn't say that there are no right sides.

 

 

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This thread got off on the wrong foot by worrying about who first creates human rights, and then wondering whether the impeachable status of the various creators of human rights systems undermines the claim of rights to be absolute. But undermining rights by impeaching those who first posited them in law is like trying to argue that the calculus is faulty because Isaac Newton was viciously difficult to get along with. The validity of the calculus, like that of human rights, is intrinsic: either the system is coherent and appeals to what it must describe -- the real world in the former case and the ethical world in a social context in the latter -- or it does not.

 

Taking that initial step, there have been many attempts to derive the human rights systems we have from certain foundational postulates of what human beings are and what ethics requires. Kant famously derived them this way:

 

(Step 1) Praise and blame are essential to morality, but praise and blame are only possible if humans have free will so they can deserve praise or blame for what they do.

 

(Step 2) Since we have morality and value it as one of the two systems we use for interpreting reality to our satisfaction (natural science, based on the assumption that everything is subject to the laws of cause and effect, being the other), we can posit for purposes of morality that humans are free.

 

(Step 3) If all humans are posited to be free for purposes of morality, and this is based on treating humans as part of an idealized world of values, not as part of the real world of science, then we have no access to empirical reasons for regarding people as unequal, so all people are both free and equal.

 

(Step 4) But how can we know that we are free, since all our behavior can be explained by science as causally determined by culture, hormones, genes, childhood trauma, etc.? We know ourselves as free only if we restrict our behavior by basing it solely on a purely ideal resolve and giving ourselves an intellectual motivation for action.

 

(Step 5) This intellectual motive for action, so that we can be sure it is not just a covert disguise for some practical interest we have on the basis of childhood trauma, genes, hormones, or other physical drives, must itself be oriented to respecting something transcending the physical realm. But since what we have so far established as transcending the physical realm is human freedom, it is now clear that we can only experience ourselves as free by recognizing and acting out of respect for human freedom, which has been posited to be a universal aspect of all people.

 

(Step 6) Since all people have been posited not only as free but also as equal, to be free ourselves we must respect in our actions the equal freedom of others.

 

(Step 7) Therefore, morality is the respect for the equal freedom of others, or, as religious intution puts it, 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'

 

(Step 8) The state is itself moral only if its actions respect the equality and freedom of its citizens.

 

(Step 9) Therefore, the state is moral only if it respects the limitations set out in today's equal liberty rights in many of the world's constitutiions.

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What do you do about another person's morale compass pointing the wrong direction? Especially if that person holds the power. If you have something that can be denied of you, once it is taken away, do you still have it. And as to the question origianally posted, Who draws the line? Do the people in power, the individual, or the masses themselves decide what a human right is or should be? And what if the rights decided on affect others in a negative way?

 

So yes this thread has gotten a little off track. But the two questions I had intended to clarify in my mind were, Who decides what it is and can it only be given by those who hold power? It's pretty much been the general consensus on the thread that the idea of human rights should be a moral obligation to the world. But it was my assertion that they can be taken just as easily as given. And who's to stop those who envoke their power to abuse. Just like Michel123456 said about war being wrong and there are no right sides... Would going to war with someone, who's goal is to abuse those who can't defend themselves, be the right thing to do? My other assertion was that once those kind of people are defeated, it would be the place of the victor to reinstate the so called human rights of the abused. So the power to do so is on the beholder.

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The position of Kant and other idealists would hold that rights can be derived a priori, ideally but not empirically, from an analysis of the type of characteristics that would have to be possessed by people in order for them to be morally significant. So all these questions about who sets up the rights system we have, whether it can be made empirically effective, who gets to make decisions about rights, etc., make about as much sense with respect to the ideal system of rights as questions about how can we teach logic, how can people use it, and how can society accept it would make for the validity of an axiomatized system of mathematical logic. If it has trouble becoming effective in the real world, too bad for the real world. Similarly, if people get their system of rights wrong, they should look back to the Kantian derivation and check where they went wrong.

 

However, that attitude doesn't mean that your question lacks validity, since rights are clearly designed to have real social significance. A major force in the philosophy of law today, the Critical Legal Studies movment, argues that the basic design of rights and duties in society is abusive and oppressive, since it defines certain claims and interests out of existence right at the outset. But a counter-argument would be to note that society seems to accept the system of rights we now have, since it hasn't revolted against it, so this tacit consent gives it validity. Also, because rights are formal principles, they can't reliably operate to the consistent benefit of one group or individual over another, so they have an inherent fairness. For example, the legal rule of 'aude alterem partem' -- both parties must be heard (before a neutral adjudicator), seems too formal ever to operate prejudicially against anyone. Similarly, a rule like 'ubi jus, ibi rem,' where there is a right there must be a remedy, will sometimes work for the rich and powerful and sometimes against them, sometimes for men, sometimes for women, occasionally for whites, at other times for blacks, etc.

 

There have been attempts to define war as so immoral that no state has a right to go to war other than for purposes of self-defense against a genuine is imminent attack, but the 'Bush Doctrine' argued that in an age of weapons of mass destruction, imminent threats could be so lethal that countries have to have a broad right to make pre-emptive strikes under all sorts of excuses. There are also now principles of international law described as 'ius in bello,' or law in war, which describe internationally agreed upon rules for conducting war, taking prisoners, administering conquered terroritory, etc. Unfortunately, these are almost always violated, or sometimes prove impossible to observe because of technological advances or unique political situations. Thus it used to be a rule of war that the conquering power had to administer the conquered state domestically according to the local laws in force at the time of the conquest, so this would have compelled the Allies in 1945 to continue the Holocaust, which would have been absurd. Yet technically, because they did not enforce the anti-Jewish laws, they were in violation of international law.

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  • 4 weeks later...

What about when the human rights of people alive today conflict with the human rights of future genertions?

 

E.G. Around procreation and over population and exhaustion of natural resources.

My position is the same. Future humans only have those rights if they were granted to them by someone, and they are only meaningful to those future humans if they can be and are enforced.

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