Our question in class about gay marriage revealed our tendency to blur the lines between civil and human rights. The distinction between human and civil rights embodies several characteristics. First of all, while civil rights are related to the constitution of each country, human rights are considered to be universal. Civil rights are hammered out by the founders and creators of new societies, while human rights are gifted to us by virtue of being born a human. Civil rights are individual rights which exist by virtue of legislative action and a state government. Human rights, on the other hand, are universal, and (supposedly) cannot be violated by anyone, not even a state government.
When I think about the significance of the differences between these two rights, I am reminded of the question of universality and particularity. As emphasized in our reading from Donnelly concerning intervention, "The moral universality of human rights, which has been codified in a strong set of authoritative international norms, must be realized through the particularities of national action" (181). In the case of civil rights, the particularity of the state takes precedence; rights are determined and enforced by one government with presumably one predominant set of cultural beliefs and practice. Universal human rights, however, are inherently within each person (the United Nations just wrote them all down for us), applied to each person regardless of culture or belief system, and are enforced by… well…
Let's look at a simple example where civil and human rights may clash: An imprisoned felon in the United States no longer possesses the civil right to vote, but he still has his UDHR Article 28 human right to participate in his government. So is the United States government violating his human right? Other instances of opposition between civil and human rights include rights of women in many states, and others (If you can think of another example or a better example of civil rights and universal human rights in conflict with one another, please post it!)
Clearly, as Donnelly points out on numerous occasions, the enforcement of rights—whether civil or human—is most often upheld by the state, not the international community. If this is true, have we not established a system in which civil rights will always trump human rights in practical application? Is this acceptable to you? Should the international community recognize this fact and allow states to uphold their civil right above "universal" human rights? Or should civil rights take a backseat, and would you advocate that the international community intervene in instances where human rights are being violated within the bounds of local civil rights? Or are human rights and civil rights not as distinct as I've made them out to be?