Are human rights universal or political?

Adrian de León
9 min readJan 30, 2024

This first post of the newsletter, will focus on shining a light on what we mean by ‘human rights’. What are the moral foundations of human rights, and are they political?

The newscycle is peppered with mentions of human rights, and most importantly, human rights violations, both on a national and global scale. Of course, the ongoing humanitarian tragedy/genocide in Gaza, as the morbid stage for the conflict between Israel and Hamas, is at the forefront of every concerned global citizen’s mind. Unfortunately, this is not the only ongoing humanitarian crisis currently unfolding across the world. Despite the omnipresence of the term, a lot of questions remain unanswered; mainly surrounding what constitues a human right, and most pertinently, what constitutes a violation of human rights? The media coverage of issues remains elusive on this question and this leaves a vacuum that is filled with incredulity from concerned citizens and deliberate misinformation from those in power.

This first iteration of the newsletter will attempt to shine a light on the philosophical and political mechanics behind the concepts of human rights and outline the legal framework that has been erected to enforce these rights. In Western society, we often take human rights for granted, and we generally feel pretty confident in our ability to grasp what constitutes a right and what constitues a violation of said rights. Then, the world of geo or local politics plays out in front of us and justice seems seldom delivered. Why is this?

To some the answer to this question is complicated and progress is constrained by quarrels of cultural, philosophical, moral, and political relativism. To others, the answer is obvious: humanity is plagued by naked self-interest which is exacerbated or exploited by a global system most commonly known as neo-liberal capitalism. Perhaps the answer, if there ever is one, is somewhere in the middle or maybe the answer doesn’t exist and it is something that we need to catalogue in the mysteries of existence.

Amidst the confusion, and the anger and sadness that is inherent with this confusion, there is a reality that the very concept of ‘human rightshas been, and continues to be, an ever evolving, dynamic process. As a species we are prone to take for granted both the materialist conditions and the moral systems that we have in place. We…

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