Looking for articulations of basic rights
August 31, 2015 11:22 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for examples of what a culture or social group has articulated as the basic rights owed to any person or at least any member of the culture/social group. The universality is the point here. Obvious examples include the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the United States' Declaration of Independence and Constitution/Bill of Rights. What other examples can you give me?

It's a fuzzy line, but something like a medieval philosopher discoursing on equality before god (e.g. Galatians 3:26-29) is more what I'm interested in than say the Magna Carta, which is more a list of promises between a ruler and a specific class of nobles. On the other hand the 1789 French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen does have the universality I'm interested in.

Ideally I want one place that has a list of many such articulations of basic rights. Examples from smaller social groups, non-Western groups, >100 years ago, or <10 years ago would all be great.

For purposes of this AskMe I am not interested in broader discussion/debate about human rights. I just want examples of the lists various groups have come up with. I am aware that "human rights" in the sense I am using the term may not be meaningful in the same way pre-1945 or pre-Enlightenment or pre-Protestant Reformation depending on how one wants to debate the semantics.
posted by Wretch729 to Religion & Philosophy (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You might also wish to check out the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If you dig through the references on the wikipedia page, you'll also find links to lots of contemporary discussion about how to hammer it out.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:44 AM on August 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

How about this list of Fundamental Rights under the Indian Constitution? It's country-specific, but what's interesting is that the rights apply to every citizen, period, regardless of gender, caste, creed etc, and in some cases to non-citizens as well.
posted by Tamanna at 11:44 AM on August 31, 2015

Oddly, the 1936 Soviet Constitution (the "Stalin constitution") has a truly impressive list of rights; as that Wikipedia article says, it "recognized collective social and economic rights including the rights to work, rest and leisure, health protection, care in old age and sickness, housing, education, and cultural benefits," not to mention freedom of religion. See Chapter 10 for details. Needless to say, it was observed entirely in the breach, but it makes glorious reading (as it was intended to).
posted by languagehat at 12:05 PM on August 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Ontario Human Rights Code was the first in Canada in 1962 - here is the Current Act and a much easier to read summary. In Canada, the Charter refers to acts between Government and individuals - the Provincial codes cover both public and private sectors (acts between organisation and individuals or individuals and another individual.) The Codes are actually more comprehensive than the Charter - which doesnt even protect gender identity or gender identity right now, or even marital status.
posted by saucysault at 12:37 PM on August 31, 2015

The South African Bill of Rights.

As well as standards like equality, human dignity and so forth, it also includes freedom of movement, access to justice ('just administrative actions' and 'access to courts'), access to information, the environment, and other rights not often included in other such declarations. Even the provisions on equality are ahead of their time - including sexual orientation, age, pregnancy and disability, and distinguishing between 'race' and 'colour'.
posted by plep at 12:40 PM on August 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

But I mean "human rights" is a really modern --

"I am aware that "human rights" in the sense I am using the term may not be meaningful in the same way pre-1945 or pre-Enlightenment or pre-Protestant Reformation depending on how one wants to debate the semantics."

Oh, okay, in that case! You'll want to look for "natural rights" and "natural law" for most pre-1776 discussion in the West.

So starting with the ancients -- The Code of Hammurabi talks about rights, although it is primarily interested in property rights and sex rights with wives and female slaves, but you see the beginning of the idea that certain rights belong to citizens/freemen and they can enforce those rights through the power of the state. In Ancient Greece, Seneca and Cicero talk about slavery being an unnatural condition, while freedom is innate and natural.

There is a Charter of Medina (sometimes the Constitution of Medina (full text)) promulgated by the Prophet in 622 CE, which lays out universal rights for the community, which is basically that if you follow the community laws you're entitled to the protection of the community, including recourse to its courts and some freedom of religion; it hits hard on the "equal rights" idea.

Thomas Aquinas talks about natural law and the resulting human law in the Prima Segunda of the Summa, starting at about question 90 and continuing for 12 or 15 questions. (n.b., This is mostly about natural law and the function of the human law as a whole, but you can abstract a lot of ideas about human rights from it.)

Thomas Hobbes touches on it in Leviathan; then John Locke is probably your next substantial stop on the tour of the history of rights theory, and he is where it starts presenting in a substantially modern form familiar to Westerners, as "Life, liberty, and property."

The Virginia Declaration of Rights I thiiiiiink slightly predates the Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man. (Wikipedia check: yep.)

Hope some of those are interesting historical examples.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:46 PM on August 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: These are all great keep 'em coming please! Still hoping for more non-western examples.
posted by Wretch729 at 1:13 PM on August 31, 2015

As a corollary to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, try the Déclaration des droits de la femme et de la citoyenne.
posted by Liesl at 1:14 PM on August 31, 2015

The American Convention on Human Rights, which is a multi-national treaty on human rights signed by members of the Organization of American States predates the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Also, the EU's Convention on Human Rights is pretty important.

But, I also think you should look at various religious texts. These texts do not use the enlightment era phrases, like "unalienable rights", but they do (at times) express the same concepts. For example, the idea that all men are equal can be found in several religious texts.
posted by Flood at 2:02 PM on August 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Check out the Constitution of Japan.
posted by Mr Mister at 3:46 PM on August 31, 2015

UN Convention on Rights of the Child (UNCRC)
posted by Klaxon Aoooogah at 3:56 PM on August 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

Just look at the constitutions of countries in the area of the world that interests you. Many specify some list of rights. I find Haiti's list especially interesting and illustrative of its troubled history.
posted by girl flaneur at 4:07 PM on August 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Constitution of Medina (622)
posted by robcorr at 9:54 PM on August 31, 2015

If the passage from Galatians works for you, perhaps consider the role of equality in Sikhism. I couldn't find any specific rights enumerated, but the general gist is to treat everyone equally, regardless of caste, not even distinguishing between believer and non-believer.
posted by mhum at 10:16 PM on August 31, 2015

The Constitute Project will help you compare the rights and duties articulated under each of the world's constitutions (see left sidebar).
posted by modernnomad at 10:41 PM on August 31, 2015

Also, to follow-up on the previous suggestion of the 1936 Soviet constitution, check out these communist constitutions:
posted by mhum at 10:44 PM on August 31, 2015

Maybe this is something completely different, but the Code of Canon Law specifies this for Christians, who form both a real and spiritual society. See generally Book II, Part I or one of the titles under that such as Title I ("The Obligations and Rights of All the Christian Faithful"). These laws are the source of a very real government, with tribunals, functionaries, processes, sanctions, etc., so you may see how a declaration of a billion-ish Christians' basic rights vis-a-vis one another and in relation to their corporate form would be necessary.

Those links are to the 1983 Corpus Iuris Canonici, or Code of Canon Law, which "updated" the 1917 Code in light of the Second Vatican Council; before the 1917 Code there was sort of a loose body of laws and customs.
posted by resurrexit at 11:47 AM on September 1, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks all, still working my way through everything but this is great.
posted by Wretch729 at 10:58 AM on September 3, 2015

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