Human rights are, literally, the rights one has (simply) because one is a human being--droits de l'homme, Menschrechts, "rights of man," the rights one has simply as a person. The section that follows briefly summarizes my understanding of the nature of human rights. 1 My principal task in this chapter, however, is to apply this theoretical perspective directly to the question of the relationship between individual rights and the rights of collectivities, and the status of collective human rights.
In the second section, "The Subjects of Human Rights: Individuals or Groups?", I argue that although there are important collective dimensions to all human rights, and although all individuals exist only as members of multiple social collectivities, every human right is by its nature a right of individual human beings. In the third section, "Group Rights in the Context of Human Rights," however, I show that group rights are in many circumstances completely compatible with individual human rights. And in the last section, "Cultural Rights and the Right to Cultural Identity," I address the right to cultural identity, a special concern of this volume and the conference out of which it grew.
"Right" in English--and equivalent words in a number of other languages-- has two central moral and political senses: rectitude and entitlement. In the first sense, of rectitude, we talk of something being right; in this sense we say of an action that it is right. In the second sense, of entitlement, we talk of someone having a right. It is only in this latter sense that we typically talk of rights (in the plural). Human rights are, by definition, the rights, in the strict and strong sense of entitlements, that one has simply because one is a human being.