What Are Human Rights? (4): Not Given Rights

A right is not what someone gives you; it’s what no one can take from you. Ramsey Clark

Although the state plays an important part in enforcing rights, these rights are not given by the state. They exist prior to the state and hence are not a gift, a reward, or a favor granted by the state to its citizens, possibly in exchange for something else, for example obedience or the entry into a certain social class. Rights are not part of a contractual relationship.

The states of the Soviet block were notorious for this kind of reasoning. They considered rights to be a favor given by the state to exemplary citizens, to citizens who had proven to be particularly useful in the advance of communism. These citizens did not have rights but privileges, and rights were not the primary or sole objective of the state. Communist states also viewed rights in a purely functional way. Exercising human rights was only possible if this was of any use to the progress of communism. Consequently, it was impossible to enforce human rights. The state decided when and where they could be enjoyed, and when and where it could violate them.

Human rights, however, are unconditional. People have human rights because they are human beings. No other conditions are necessary.

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