A Magna Carta for all humanity: homing in on human rights

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Summer 2015
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The current row over human rights protection in the UK is essentially a political and ethical debate over what kind of society we want to live in. The idea of human rights arose through political struggle, and the ways in which we understand its meaning continue to be shaped by politics. Contemporary human rights broadly stem from the UN’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), part of a post-war project to address the limitations of Enlightenment thinking. Its notion of human rights was different from the first-wave rights campaigners. The old notion of being ‘equal before the law’ was now explicitly bolstered by the ‘equal protection of the law’, signalling the necessity for states to outlaw discrimination, including between private individuals. The UDHR determined that it is our common humanity, not our citizenship or other legal status, which is the source of both our equal worth and our eligibility for the ‘core human entitlements’ which facilitate human flourishing. The UK Human Rights Act (HRA) 1998 is criticised precisely for the features that are proudly celebrated in the Magna Carta _ its broad and flexible drafting, its universality, and its status as fundamental law. The key difference is that the HRA has a more direct contemporary legal effect. In order to prevent the diminution of rights that would be entailed by the repeal of the HRA a political campaign is once more needed.

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