What makes a right universal?

Question: What makes a right universal?


Gillian Caldwell: That’s a big debate; which rights are universal and which rights are or should be left to the discretion of countries. Or in the U.S. context even, what should be left to the federal government versus what should be left to the states. Again, politics play into this of course because the so-called first generation rights were the civil and political rights like the right to vote or the right to freedom of speech.

The so-called third generation rights – social, economic and cultural rights – which were being pushed for more often by the developing world and/or by social democracies in communist countries are only slowly beginning to gain some credibility at a global level. So there’s always been this priority and primacy placed on the right be free from torture; but when you start to talk about the right to housing, there are lots of questions even amongst the westerners who are advocating and who have been leading the human rights movement about the enforceability of those rights because the economic implications are so substantial.


Caldwell, on the role of politics.

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