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Human Rights Research Papers

Research papers on human rights can focus on any type of human right or a broad overview of human rights, as defined by the United Nations.

What are human rights?  According to human rights research paper , human rights are simply the 20th century name for Natural Rights, a concept stretching back to John Locke, who defined three: life, liberty and property.  Thomas Jefferson subtly changed these to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, a uniquely vague American ideal.  Locke’s rights can be restricted to the ruling class, Jefferson’s open up the possibilities to the entire population, those who did not own property and those who were property.  In the 19th century, philosophers did not challenge the doctrine of Natural Rights.  Hegel inverted Locke’s theories and maintained that rights belonged, not to individuals, but to communities.  Marx followed suit in developing his theories of communism.  Rights become reality through law.  The United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights specified many of the rights of citizens: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizure.”

During the 19th century, the understanding of human rights changed.  According to a research paper on human rights, international laws prohibiting the trafficking of blacks, women and children were introduced.  The Geneva Convention of 1864 formed the basis of humanitarian law.  But the modern definition of human rights can be traced to the UN Charter of 1945, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, 30 AHuman Rightsrticles that guarantee the following types of rights to all humans:

  • Civil Rights
  • Political Rights
  • Economic Rights
  • Social Rights
  • Cultural Rights

Various threads of philosophical and social thought have contributed to the development of the fundamental concepts of rights and to the practical methods devised to apply these concepts to political, legal and other social situations.  Because of the number of theories attempting to define the concept of rights, however, there is no unified theory of rights that accounts for the diverse legal, moral and political interpretations.  In addition, the application of theoretical concepts to everyday situations is mutable, reflecting the evolving needs and perspectives of society. The current model of rights in the United States is derived from a historical process that incrementally altered both the conceptions of rights and the practical rules by which rights are enforced.  This process created distinct philosophical views of the nature of rights that are intertwined, but not always logically harmonious.


A right is an articulation of a principle representing a shared value of a society, such as freedom of expression or freedom or religion.  Once a society achieves consensus on the existence and nature of a right, it then establishes a practical mechanism to insure that the right can be applied.  A society may determine that some rights are absolute, incapable of modification or dilution, while others are more mutable.  It may also suggest that some rights are more important than others, and are more determinative in the event of a conflict of rights.  The relative strength of a right over time is largely a product of the circumstances and perceptions of the moment.  The underlying principle that the right exists, however, tends to become embedded in the social fabric, a given that is difficult to define with precision, yet nonetheless assumed to be a constant.

In general, rights are fundamental freedoms of an individual that society has agreed cannot be removed without the consent of society. They are multifaceted, in part designed to limit the power of the governing entity over the governed, and in part designed to define the relationship of the individual to society at large.  They began to take shape in the late Middle Ages and expanded in the early modern era as the concept of the individual became increasingly important.  Because of the competing ideas regarding the source, definition and extent of rights, however, they remain somewhat amorphous concepts that take shape only in the context of the legal, political and philosophical discourse of a specific society.

Aspects of the modern concept of rights stems from both ideas of natural law, which became entangled with rights in the late Middle Ages, and the social contract theory, which began to take form during the Enlightenment of the seventeenth century. Both theories suggested unique ways to describe the source and nature of rights that were appropriate to the social context of the times.  In addition, they contain elements that are often used in the discourse regarding rights during later periods.
Natural law produced a morality model of rights, which suggests that rights are a manifestation of the precepts created by a moral agent separate and independent from the consensus of society.  This concept assumes a sense of responsibility to an abstract principle, which is considered immutable by its adherents and is usually associated with divine authority.  In essence, this suggests that rights are practical manifestations of the principles embodied in the dominant religion of a society, and leads to the viewpoint that these rights should be unerring and universal.  Although concepts of natural law can be traced to the classical period, it became an element of rights discourse during the late medieval period when England was religiously homogeneous.      

The natural law or morality model of rights takes the position that human laws enforcing and protecting rights are valid only to the degree that they reflect divine law.  Any law that circumscribes rights is therefore inherently invalid.  Natural law also implies the existence of inalienable rights that are granted to each individual by divine authority merely by the fact of their existence.  Similar, but secularized arguments as to the source of rights would be echoed in the approach to rights found in the late twentieth century.

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