Three generations of human rights: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The division of human rights into three generations was initially proposed in 1979 by the Czech jurist Karel Vasak at the International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg. He used the term at least as early as November 1977.[1] Vasak's theories have primarily taken root in European law, as they primarily reflect European values.

His divisions follow the three watchwords of the French Revolution: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. The three generations are reflected in some of the rubrics of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes rights that are thought of as second generation as well as first generation ones, but it does not make the distinction in itself (the rights listed in it are not in specific order).


First-generation human rights

First-generation human rights deal essentially with liberty and participation in political life. They are fundamentally civil and political in nature, and serve to protect the individual from excesses of the state. First-generation rights include, among other things, freedom of speech, the right to a fair trial, freedom of religion, and voting rights. Pioneered by the United States Bill of Rights and in France by the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in the 18th century, they were first enshrined at the global level by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and given status in international law in Articles 3 to 21 of the Universal Declaration, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

When first generation human rights are limited this directly limits second generation rights. Improving first generation rights is the "causal link from first generation human rights to improved socio-economic outcomes".[2]

Second-generation human rights

Second-generation human rights are related to equality and began to be recognized by governments after World War I. They are fundamentally social, economic, and cultural in nature. They ensure different members of the citizenry equal conditions and treatment. Secondary rights would include a right to be employed, rights to housing and health care, as well as social security and unemployment benefits. Like first-generation rights, they were also covered by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and further embodied in Articles 22 to 27 of the Universal Declaration, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. In the United States of America, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed a Second Bill of Rights, covering much the same grounds, during his State of the Union Address on 11 January 1944.

Third-generation human rights

Third-generation human rights are those rights that go beyond the mere civil and social, as expressed in many progressive documents of international law, including the 1972 Stockholm Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and other pieces of generally aspirational "soft law." Because of the principle of sovereignty and the preponderance of would-be offender nations, these rights have been hard to enact in legally binding documents.

The term "third-generation human rights" remains largely unofficial, and thus houses an extremely broad spectrum of rights, including:

Some countries have constitutional mechanisms for safeguarding third-generation rights. For example, the New Zealand Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, the Hungarian Parliamentary Commissioner for Future Generations[3], the Parliament of Finland’s Committee for the Future, and the erstwhile Commission for Future Generations in the Knesset in Israel.

Some international organizations have offices for safeguarding such rights. An example is the High Commissioner on National Minorities of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The Directorate-General for the Environment of the European Commission has as its mission ‘protecting, preserving and improving the environment for present and future generations, and promoting sustainable development’.


Dr. Charles Kesler, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and senior fellow of the Claremont Institute, has argued that second and third generation human rights serve as an attempt to cloak political goals, which the majority may well agree are good things in and of themselves, in the language of rights and thus grant those political goals inappropriate connotations. In his opinion, calling socio-economic goods rights inherently creates a related concept of 'duties' so that other citizens have to be coerced by the government to give things to other people in order to fulfill these new rights. He also has stated that, in the U.S., the new rights create a 'nationalization' of political decision making at the federal level in violation of federalism.[4] In his book Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift, Dr. Paul Rahe, the Charles O. Lee and Louise K. Lee Chair in Western Heritage at Hillsdale College, wrote that focusing on equality-based rights leads to a subordination to the initial civil rights to an ever-expanding government, which would be too incompetent to provide for its citizens correctly and would merely seek to subordinate more rights.[5]

Ninteenth century philosopher Frederic Bastiat summarized the conflict between these negative and positive rights by saying:

M. de Lamartine wrote me one day: "Your doctrine is only the half of my program; you have stopped at liberty; I go on to fraternity." I answered him: "The second half of your program will destroy the first half." And, in fact, it is quite impossible for me to separate the word "fraternity" from the word "voluntary." It is quite impossible for me to conceive of fraternity as legally enforced, without liberty being legally destroyed, and justice being legally trampled underfoot.[6]

Economist F. A. Hayek has argued that the second generation concept of 'social justice' cannot have any practical political meaning, stating that:

No state of affairs as such is just or unjust: it is only when we assume that somebody is responsible for having brought it about... In the same sense, a spontaneously working market, where prices act as guides to action, cannot take account of what people in any sense need or deserve, because it creates a distribution which nobody has designed, and something which has not been designed, a mere state of affairs as such, cannot be just or unjust. And the idea that things ought to be designed in a 'just' manner means, in effect, that we must abandon the market and turn to a planned economy in which somebody decides how much each ought to have, and that means, of course, that we can only have it at the price of the complete abolition of personal liberty.[7]

Responses to Criticism

New York University School of Law professor of law Jeremy Waldron has written in response to critics of the second-generation rights that;

"In any case, the argument from first-generation to second-generation rights was never supposed to be a matter of conceptual analysis. It was rather this: if one is really concerned to secure civil or political liberty for a person, that commitment should be accompanied by a further concern about the conditions of the person's life that make it possible for him to enjoy and exercise that liberty. Why on earth would it be worth fighting for this person's liberty (say, his liberty to choose between A and B) if he were left in a situation in which the choice between A and B meant nothing to him, or in which his choosing one rather than the other would have no impact on his life?" [8]

Hungarian socialist political economist Karl Polanyi made the antitheical argument to Hayek in the book The Great Transformation. Polanyi wrote that an uncontrolled free market would lead to repressive economic concentration and then to a co-opting of democratic governance that degrades civil rights.[9]

See also


  1. ^ Karel Vasak, "Human Rights: A Thirty-Year Struggle: the Sustained Efforts to give Force of law to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights", UNESCO Courier 30:11, Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, November 1977.
  2. ^ D. Kaufmann • Chapter in Human Rights and Development: Towards Mutual Reinforcement • Edited by Philip Alston and Mary Robinson. Human Rights and Governance: The Empirical Challenge
  3. ^ Notes: Hungarian Parliamentary Commissioner for Future Generations
  4. ^ "Charles Kesler on the Grand Liberal Project". Uncommon Knowledge. May 28, 2009. Retrieved January 5, 2010. 
  5. ^ "Soft Despotism with Paul Rahe". Uncommon Knowledge. November 19, 2009. Retrieved January 5, 2010. 
  6. ^ Bastiat, Frédéric (1995, originally written 1850). "The Law". Chapter 2 in Selected Essays on Political Economy". Irvington-on-Hudson, NY: The Foundation for Economic Education, Inc. Retrieved 2009-01-20. 
  7. ^ Hazlett, Thomas W. (July 1992). "The Road from Serfdom: Forseeing the Fall". Reason. Retrieved January 4, 2010. 
  8. ^ Jeremy Waldron, 1993. Liberal Rights: Collected Papers, page 7, 1981–91. ISBN 0-521-43617-6
  9. ^ Karl Polanyi (2001). The Great Transformation. Beacon Press. ISBN 9780807056431. 

External links



Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address