Questioning our rights

By Max Low, Li Po Chun United World College
By Max Low, Li Po Chun United World College |

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In light of the Occupy Central protests, questions must be raised about the rights we have as Hongkongers. Is the mass civil disobedience movement simply an exercise of our right to peacefully assemble? Or are the protesters just unruly law-breakers? This leads us to ask, what are our human rights and where did we get them from? Is there even such a thing as rights?

The aptly named defines human rights as “the rights you have simply because you are human.” The United Nations states that human rights are “universal and inherent to all human beings … we are all equally entitled.”

But when we think about human rights, we first have to think about where they come from. Who gave us our human rights? Or have they always existed and were somehow discovered? If an individual grants himself his rights, then why can’t he grant himself the right to murder without consequence, for example? Why must the individual acknowledge the rights of others in his society?

If they were natural rights, they should be self-evident and universally respected, and not left up to the victors of the Second World War to write down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  

If basic human rights need to be written down and protected by law, we are leaving the government as the sole giver and protector of those rights. I don’t call those rights. I call those privileges that the state grants you. This is because I believe that rights are not something that can possibly be taken away. Yet, all around the world, we see governments or groups of people “taking away” or “abusing” human rights. 

Human rights cannot be earned, and do not change depending on race or social standing. In my opinion, if someone else has the power to take your rights away, those aren’t natural or universal rights anymore. 

Those are privileges.

Therefore, we should work not to preserve our rights, but to expand our privileges as citizens in the societies we live in.