A Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations 70 years ago, on Dec. 10, 1948. I agree with its basic affirmations, but I also see how it is insufficient.
This list of rights starts out saying that all human beings are endowed with reason and conscience. This simply is not the case. Almost everyone would agree that children, felons, and the insane lack these features to some extent and cannot have the same rights as competent adults. Article 26 states education is a human right but affirms parents’ rights to choose their children’s education.
Rights are denied other people when they are thought to be childlike, naughty or crazy, in need of supervision and discipline. Men have limited women’s rights because women were not deemed to be fully competent. They were subject to hysteria, a word derived from the Greek for womb. Protection of women, as of children, involved restrictions and occasional punishment for their own good. The Declaration’s preamble affirms equal rights for men and women nevertheless.
Similarly, foreign people have been treated like children needing special treatment and control. Responsible parent cultures have thought they knew what is best for childish, uneducated people. Criminals and the insane clearly need care and restriction. We must deny them their rights to freedom and self-determination in order to protect the rights of other people.
These denials of full rights are defended in the Declaration. It can only hope that the limitations will not be arbitrarily and unfairly administered. The big problem is how to be judicious and fair when rights must be abridged or adjusted?
We should strive to recognize the rights of as many human beings as possible despite these reasonable exceptions. Maybe we need a new declaration.