RIGHT: A moral or legal entitlement to have or obtain something or to act in a certain way.

HUMAN RIGHT: A right that is believed to belong justifiably to everyone. The term came into wide use after World War II, replacing the earlier phrase “natural rights,” which had been associated with the Greco-Roman concept of natural law since the end of the Middle Ages. As understood today, human rights refer to a wide variety of values and capabilities reflecting the diversity of human circumstances and history. They are conceived of as universal, applying to all human beings everywhere, and as fundamental, referring to essential or basic human needs. Human rights have been classified historically in terms of the notion of three “generations” of human rights.


The expression human rights is relatively new, having come into everyday parlance only since World War II, the founding of the United Nations in 1945, and the adoption by the UN General Assembly of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. It replaced the phrase natural rights, which fell into disfavor in the 19th century in part because the concept of natural law (to which it was intimately linked) had become controversial with the rise of legal positivism. Legal positivism rejected the theory, long espoused by the Roman Catholic Church, that law must be moral to be law. The term human rights also replaced the later phrase the rights of Man, which was not universally understood to include the rights of women. Burns H. Weston,


Instead of turning to history to monumentalize human rights by rooting them deep in the past, it is much better to acknowledge how recent and contingent they really are. Above all, it is crucial to link the emergence of human rights to the history of utopianism—the heartfelt desire to make the world a better place. Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia, Harvard University Press, 2012, p. 225.


When embarking on a history of human rights, the first question one confronts is where does that history begin?...Current notions of morality cannot be associated solely with European history. Modern ethics is in fact indebted to a worldwide spectrum of both secular and religious traditions…From Hammurabi’s Code to the New Testament to the Quran, one can identify a common disdain toward indentured servants (or slaves), women, and homosexuals—all were excluded from equal social benefits. While emphasizing a universal moral embrace, all great civilizations have thus tended to rationalize unequal entitlements for the weak or the “inferior.” Yet while such similarities are noteworthy, they should not overshadow one of history’s most consequential realities: it has been the influence of the West, including the influence of the Western concept of universal rights, that has prevailed. Micheline R. Ishay, The History of Human Rights: From Ancient Times to the Globalization Era; University of California Press, 2004, Pp. 6 – 7.