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The dark side of human rights

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Edmund Burke argued that abstract or universal rights to food and medicine were less valuable than the aid of ‘the farmer and the physician’. His point remains unanswered. Human rights receive universal lip service, but their status and justification remain murky. From one view they are universal requirements matched by counterpart universal obligations: but if so they cannot be defined or created by international Covenants. From another view they are defined by convention and have force only when states ratify international Covenants: but if so, they are not universal. This matters particularly for rights to goods and services, such as rights to food and health care. These rights require the active collaboration of those who are to deliver needed goods and services: yet this active engagement is endangered by imposing overly complex requirements in the name of compliance with human rights. Excessive demands for compliance, and excessive emphasis on complaint, compensation and blame as remedies for non-compliance, endanger the effective contribution of the farmer and the physician, and of others on whom the provision of needed goods and services most depends.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2005

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