Human Rights vs Property Rights

If the purpose of human rights is to protect human beings’ fundamental interests, the claims persons have against one another in respect of other kinds of interest should not be allowed to have a human rights justification.

The inclusion of a right to property in a list of human rights, such as that of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), has always been controversial and its implications uncertain.  What ought to be possible is to rule out entirely disingenuous appeals to it. ‘The slogan that property is a human right can be deployed only disingenuously to legitimize the massive inequality that we find in modern capitalist countries.’ (Jeremy Waldron) Such inequalities are compounded globally.

It is possible to distinguish very clearly between human rights and property rights, I argue in Tim Hayward, ‘Human Rights vs Property Rights’, Just World Institute Working Paper 2013/04. This new paper provides an analysis that supports an appropriate interpretation of UDHR Article 17.  It would also underpin an understanding of intellectual property rights, and their limits, that would appropriately delimit the scope of Article 27(2).  For it is arguable that some of the uses of intellectual property rights to support dominant economic interests against the vulnerable are as shameful for humanity, in their way, as the events that originally prompted the drafting of the UDHR.

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