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Group rights: Wikis


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Group rights are the rights held by a group rather than by its members severally, or rights held only by individuals within the specified group; contrast with individual rights. Group rights are not straightforwardly human rights because they are group-differentiated rather than universal to all people just by virtue of being human. Group rights have historically been used both to infringe upon and to facilitate individual rights, and the concept remains controversial.[1]

The term group rights may also be used to describe peoples' rights, a legal concept best known in the context of indigenous rights as established in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.


Relationship with Human Rights

Much of the controversy surrounding group rights stems from the fact that some commentators perceive a fundamental conflict between group rights as a social norm or legal concept, and the concept of egalitarianism or equality before the law. The principle of equality is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states in Article 1:

"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." and Article 2 states: "Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status".

This means that the relationship between group rights and human rights is both complex and controversial.[1]

The Western discourse

In the Western discourse individual rights are often associated with freedom, and group rights may have a negative connotation of undue state control. This is because in the West the establishment of individual rights is associated with equality before the law and protection from the state. Examples of this are the Magna Carta, in which the English King accepted that his will could be bound by the law and certain rights of the King's subjects were explicitly protected.

In the United States individual rights for all by virtue of being human were only established after the Civil War, in 1868, with the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The Fourteenth Amendment was intended to secure rights for former slaves and amongst others includes the Due Process and Equal Protection.


Group rights may also have a negative connotation in the context of colonialism, legalised racism and white nationalism. In this context group rights award rights to a privileged group. For example, in South Africa under the former apartheid regime, which classified inhabitants and visitors into racial groups (black, white, coloured and Indian). Rights were awarded on a group basis, creating first and second class citizens.

Group rights in the name of 'equality'

In the modern context, 'group rights' are argued for by some as an instrument to actively facilitate the realisation of equality. In a society where there is already equality before the law for all citizens, 'equality' is often an euphemistic reference to material equality (money & resources). This is where the group is regarded as being in a situation such that it needs special protective rights if its members are to enjoy living conditions on terms equal with the majority of the population.[1]

Examples of such groups may include indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, women, children and the disabled. This discourse may takes place in the context of negative and positive rights in that some commentators and policy makers conceptualise equality as not only a negative right, in the sense of ensuring freedom from discrimination, but also a positive right, in that the realisation of equality requires redistributive action by others or the state. In this respect group rights may aim to ensure equal opportunity and/or attempt to actively redress inequality.

An example this is the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) program in post-Apartheid South Africa. The South African government seeks to redress the inequalities of Apartheid by giving previously disadvantaged groups (black Africans, Coloureds and Indians who are SA citizens) economic opportunities previously not available to them. It includes measures such as Employment Equity, skills development, reverse racism, ownership, management, socio-economic development and preferential procurement. The South African Bill of Rights, contained in the South African Constitution contains strong provisions on equality, or the right to equality, in Section 9. But the Bill of Rights states that "discrimination... is unfair unless it is established that the discrimination is fair." This implies that the rational behind the Black Economic Empowerment program is fair, despite infringing the absolute application of the right to equality.

Government programs of reverse discrimination or positive discrimination exist in a number of countries: the British government [2] seeks to favour historically disadvantaged groups at the expense of members of a historically dominant group in the areas of university admissions or employment.[3] Similarly, non-quota race preferences is in place in the United States for collegiate admission to government-run educational institutions.

Group rights in such a context may aim to achieve equality of opportunity and/or equality of outcome. Such affirmative action can be controversial as they are in conflict with the absolute application of the right to equality, or because some members of the group that is intended to benefit from such programs criticizes or opposes them.

Objectivist view

Ayn Rand, developer of the philosophy of Objectivism asserted that a group, as such, has no rights. A man can neither acquire new rights by joining a group nor lose the rights which he does possess. The principle of individual rights is the only moral base of all groups or associations. She maintained that since only an individual man can possess rights, the expression "individual rights" is a redundancy (which one has to use for purposes of clarification in today’s intellectual chaos), but the expression "collective rights" is a contradiction in terms. Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).[4]

See also

External links


  1. ^ a b c Group Rights, Peter Jones 2005
  2. ^ Compact Oxford English Dictionary[1]
  3. ^ Encarta[2], Wordsmyth[3]. Archived 2009-10-31.
  4. ^ Ayn Rand (1961), "Collectivized 'Rights,'" The Virtue of Selfishness.


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