Human rights represent the triumph of the individual.
No longer are states permitted to act with impunity; they must now adhere to a
series of standards in their treatment of individuals. Despite its value as a
bulwark against state depravity, human rights are sometimes lamented as the
defeat of the collective. Please explain what this means and whether human
rights can be effectively conceptualized as a protection for collectives.
Human Rights as defined by the Office
of The High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) (2017) are “rights inherent to all human
beings” no matter what “nationality, place of residence, sex, national or
ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status” that person may
hold. This essay will begin by explaining a brief history of human rights
focusing on certain legislation and conventions existing within the United
Kingdom. The essay will then pursue the controversy surrounding the separation
of individual and collective rights, the focus will be on society’s views of
rights and discussing how and if collective bodies have rights of their own while
comparing the triumph of individuals to the collective defeat. The Hillsborough
disaster will be detailed throughout to explain how human rights can
effectively be conceptualized as a protection for collectives by drawing on Schedule
1, Article 2 and Article 6 of the Human
Rights Act (1998).
Human Rights within Britain date back
to the introduction of the English Bill
of Rights 1689. This Bill is described as “a landmark moment” by the
Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC, 2016). The
reason for this is due to the state being limited in power over the people. The
Bill included the right to “freedom from cruel and unusual punishments” and
“freedom from being fined without trial” (EHRC,
2016). The United Kingdom, in 1966, signed up to “The European Convention of
Human Rights” (EHRC, 2016) and the individuals could then be permitted to carry
out an “individual petition” (BBC, 2000). This meant that cases could be taken
to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
The European Commission of Human Rights was
brought into UK domestic law by the Human Rights Act 1998. Previously, individuals
who had a petition could only present their case in Strasbourg however the
Human Rights Act 1998 now permitted the people of the United Kingdom and their
complaints to be heard in British courts (EHRC, 2016). Further to this, The Equality Act (2010) compiled “116
separate pieces of legislation” with the purpose of protecting “the rights of
individuals and advance equality of opportunity for all” (EHRC, 2016).
It can be seen throughout
history, the standards set out within legislation and conventions have focused
on representing and protecting the rights of the individual. Individual rights
are defined by Dinstein (1989, p.199) as rights “bestowed upon every human
being personally”. In parallel to this, collective rights
are defined as rights “afforded to human beings communally” (Dinstein, 1989,
The separation of the
individual and the collective in relation to human rights is widely discussed throughout history. An
aspect of the separation stems from society. Society is a collective term and
is defined as a “community” (Oxford Dictionary, 2011, p.663) made up of
individuals. The individuals of society make up a collective group who have
basic human rights. A speech conducted by Margaret Thatcher, representing the
state reflects this separation, “And, you know, there is no
such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are
families” (The Guardian, 2013) thus separating the
individual and the collective.
One of the main issues within society has been recognising if
and how the collective possess human rights.
To recognise that the
collective have human rights has caused wide spread disagreement. Felice (1996,
p.1) resonates with this issue by stating “while individual rights are nearly
universally accepted, people’s rights and group rights remain extremely
controversial”. In more recent times however, recognising that the collective
have rights is said to have “become more widely shared” (Jakubowski, 2016,
p.94). The debate regarding the rights
of the individual compared to the collective is also seen throughout texts,
focusing on theorists, Freeman (2006, p.28) states that “some human rights
theorists have insisted that only individuals can have human rights” while
other theorists have argued the collective have rights that must be protected
within that collective group. Felice (1996, p.18) relates to this by explaining
human rights theory which focuses primarily on the individual differs to
theories surrounding collective human rights which focuses on “social groups”.
Freeman (2006, p.28) furthers this research by
stating that collective rights “are derivative from individual human rights”,
meaning that the rights of the collective body of people are protected because
the individuals within that body have human rights. Jakubowski (2016, p.93)
also elaborates on the ideology by stating human rights are “conferred upon
individuals” however they are “to be enjoyed or exercised as members of a
collective entity” (Jakubowski, 2016, p.93).
Triggs (1988) contradicts this by stating “certain rights are collective
in nature, even though the individual is the ultimate beneficiary”
(Triggs,1988, p.156 cited in Felice 1996, p.19). An example of this is
explained in Felice (1996, p.19) who states “trade union rights must be
protected to give the individual the freedom to join a union”, highlighting the
protection of the collective to benefit the individual. This research
highlights the many different interpretations of rights. Ultimately, the
research reflects that many believe everyone is entitled to human rights
whether individual or collective.
On the matter of
protection, Freeman (2006, p.32) states that “collective rights may be
necessary to protect individual rights”. This is due to one aspect of
collective entities meaning “associations and corporations” (Freeman, 2006,
p.32) who have a moral and legal duty to protect the collective rights of those
involved. Spagnoli (2007, p.73) furthers
this by stating “a minority, a nationality, a race, or a gender could need
certain rights that are its own”. In relation to the groups mentioned before,
Spagnoli (2007, p.74) explains that these groups can be “collectively
oppressed” and they have a “collective right not to be oppressed”.
The oppression of a
collective group highlights the problem of identifying whose rights have been
violated; the individual, the collective or both.
Spagnoli (2007, p.74)
addresses this issue by explaining that “rights are violated collectively, but
these are collective violations of individual rights, not violations of
collective rights”. This can be explained by taking in to account the area of
gender and women. Discrimination of gender is “not a violation of women’s
rights” but it is in fact “a violation of the rights of women” (Spagnoli, 2007,
p.74). This area of research highlights the individuality of human rights and
how violations of collective rights may be harder to define compared to
violations of individual rights.
There are many
individuals who pursue the rights of the collective. According to Felice (1996,
p.1) those seeking collective human rights do so “to empower each individual
within his or her own community”, again highlighting the sense of society
instead of individuality. Those who are in support of collective human rights
have stressed that the main problem stems from the “codification” of rights (Jakubowski,
2016, p.94), which has created a narrow view when looking at collective rights
and protection for the collective. Jakubowski (2016, p.94) explains that the
collective should be protected, the collective in this instance consisting of
“families, associations, parliaments and corporations”, however, due to the
codification of human rights, the collective body does not have its own rights
but the individuals within them do. Many of the individuals seeking collective
rights are doing so because their individual rights have been violated, DaLaet
(2014, p.81) explains that the driving force behind the fight for collective
rights is the representation “of individuals whose basic political and economic
rights have been denied” and those who do not want to stand as “isolated
individuals” because of the violations they have faced.
A case which highlights
the denial and violation of basic human rights is known as the Hillsborough
disaster. The Hillsborough Disaster was the name given to the events that took place
on the 15th April 1989. 96 football supporters lost their lives due
to a crush whilst attending a match at Hillsborough football stadium in
Sheffield. Throughout this case many injustices took place, the original
inquest took place in 1989 and ended in 1991 due to “a majority verdict of accidental
deaths” in all cases (Scraton, 2007, p.66).
The truth of the case
only surfaced in September 2012, a day which is said by those affected as “a
day of truth” (BBC,2017). It was on this day that the Hillsborough Independent
Panel revealed that “164 police statements were altered” (BCC, 2017) and that
“41 fans could potentially have been saved” (BBC, 2017). Another area that
proved questionable was the actions of coroner Dr Stefan Popper who “ruled out
any evidence relating to fans deaths beyond 3.15pm” his reasons were because by
this time “the damage was already done” (BBC, 2017). The accidental death
verdict was quashed due to the flaws being addressed and in March 2014 new
inquests began to identify who was responsible for the deaths of the victims (BBC,
2017). In April 2016, after two years of evidence, the outcome of the case
resulted in Commander David Duckenfield accepting responsibility for the lie he
told that “fans had forced the gate” abstaining himself of any responsibility
The injustices within
this case prove to be profound. The main area of concern within this case is in
relation to the Human Rights Act 1998.
Article 2 of the Human Rights Act (1998, sch.1) which states “Everyone’s right to
life shall be protected by law”, a right to life. Article 6 of the Human Rights
Act (1998, sch.1) states “Everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing”, a
right to a fair trial. If a breach has occurred, Scraton (2007, p.257) argues
there is also “a right to a fair investigation”.
It was on the foundations of these two acts
that the families and those affected by the tragedy pursued justice, the
daughter of a victim stated “without the Human Rights Act we would never, ever
have had the second inquest” (The Guardian, 2016). The negligence of the police
in altering statements, the lack of response by emergency services who made
“strenuous attempts to deflect the blame onto innocent fans” (BBC, 2017)
highlight the breaches of Article 2, the right to life (Human Rights Act, 1998,
sch.1). In relation to the actions of coroner Dr Stefan Popper whose actions
“proved controversial” (BBC, 2017), Article 6, the right to a fair trial (Human
Rights Act, 1998, sch.1) and investigation may be called upon to highlight
unjust actions due to any evidence after 3:15pm being disregarded.
The case of the
Hillsborough disaster was an injustice to each individual victim, the
collective fought for justice on behalf of the individual by using the Human Rights Act (1998). Drawing on the
research conducted by DaLaet (2014, p.81) previously stated within the essay;
many individuals fight collectively because of injustices they or others have
In conclusion, this essay
set out to explain a brief history of human rights using legislation and
conventions. The history of human rights explains how the individual triumphed
through the development of legislation and conventions such as English Bill of Rights (1689) and also the Human
Rights Act (1998). The controversy surrounding
individual and collective rights was then presented to explain how society
views this subject. Drawing on the work of Freeman (2006) , Jakubowski (2016),
Spagnoli (2007) the basic human rights although primarily formed to for the
individual do protect the collective when those individuals stand together to
form a collective body fighting for justice. The evidence of this was presented
through the details of the Hillsborough disaster, the injustices within this
case clearly show how the state acted wrongly against the collective 96
victims. The collective in the sense of the families and those affected by
these injustices stood together to form a collective body who after
twenty-seven years received justice for the victims and ultimately protection
for collective bodies by drawing on the Human Rights Act (1998). This case provides evidence of how human
rights can effectively be conceptualised as a protection for collectives and
how human rights are both individual and collective.
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