Rights and

Responsibilities

Words by Sherri Mitchell

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This article is part of Issue #13

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Much of the conflict that exists in the world is linked to people feeling that their rights are being violated. Human rights, civil rights and the very right to live are being debated on the public stage with growing frequency. Everywhere we look, people are crying out to have their rights honoured, respected and upheld. Though society has done a good job of declaring and defining the rights of human beings, it has done a poor job of applying those rights evenly to all populations. And, in most instances, it has completely failed to harmonise those rights with the rights of Mother Earth and all other living beings. Though we have made significant progress, in many ways the equation involving our rights is still largely aspirational and grossly imbalanced. In my opinion, this inequity is caused by our failure to balance the rights that we demand with a set of humane responsibilities toward one another and the rest of the creation.

Rights are defined as legal, social, or ethical principles of freedom or entitlement. They are the rules by which a society defines itself. Among the many rights that we have defined for ourselves are a set of evolving human rights. Human rights have been expressed and guaranteed by law in countless ways. They have been outlined by treaty; identified in the practices of customary international law; embedded in the tenets of constitutional law; and incorporated into the language of numerous human rights acts, conventions, declarations and resolutions. These laws place obligations on governments and government agencies to act in certain ways, or to refrain from certain acts, in order to promote and protect the rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups.

Human rights fall into several categories: 1. Civil and political rights, which consist of the right to life, equality before the law and freedom of expression; 2. Economic, social, and cultural rights, including the right to work, social security, education, cultural continuity; and 3. Collective rights, which include the right to development and self-determination. All of these rights are indivisible, interrelated and interdependent. The development of any individual right enables advancement of the others and the deprivation of any adversely affects them all.

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