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In modern English and European systems of jurisprudence and law, a right is the legal or moral entitlement to do or refrain from doing something or to obtain or refrain from obtaining an action, thing or recognition in civil society. Compare with duty, referring to behaviour that is expected or required of the citizen, and with privilege, referring to something that can be conferred and revoked.
The specific enumeration of rights accorded to citizens has historically differed greatly from one century to the next, and from one regime to the next, but nowadays is normally addressed by the constitutions of the respective nations. Generally speaking (within the English and European systems) a right corresponds with a complementary obligation that others have on the same object or realm; for instance if someone has a right on a thing, simultaneously another party or parties have an obligation to do something (or to abstain from doing something) in order to respect that right or to give concrete execution to that right.
Property rights provide a good example: society recognizes that individuals have title to particular property as defined by the transaction by which they acquired the property granting the individual free use and possession of the property. In many cases, especially regarding ideological and similar rights, the obligation depends on the legal system in its entirety, or on the state, or on the generical universality of other subjects submitted to the law.
The right can therefore be a faculty of doing something, of omitting or refusing to do something or of claiming something. Some interpretations express a typical form of right in the faculty of using something, and this is more often related to the right of property. The faculty (in all the above mentioned senses) can be originated by a (generical or specific) law, or by a private contract (which is sometimes exactly defined as a specific law between or among volunteer parties).
Other interpretations consider the right as a sort of freedom of something or as the object of justice. One of the definitions of justice is in fact the obligation that the legal system has toward the individual or toward the collectivity to grant respect or execution to his/her/its right, ordinarily with no need of explicit claim.
- (10-3) "But what obscures the matter is that though what is equitable is just, it is not identical with, but a correction of, that which is just according to law."
- (10-4) "The reason of this is that every law is laid down in general terms, while there are matters about which it is impossible to speak correctly in general terms. Where, then, it is necessary to speak in general terms, but impossible to do so correctly, the legislator lays down that which holds good for the majority of cases, being quite aware that it does not hold good for all."
- "The law, indeed, is none the less correctly laid down because of this defect; for the defect lies not in the law, nor in the lawgiver, but in the nature of the subject-matter, being necessarily involved in the very conditions of human action."
Rights can be divided into individual rights, that are held by citizens as individuals (or corporations) recognised by the legal system, and collective rights, held by an ensemble of citizens or a subgroup of citizens who have a certain characteristic in common. In some cases there can be an amount of tension between individual and collective rights. In other cases, the view of collective and individual rights held by one group can come into sharp and bitter conflict with the view of rights held by another group. For instance compare Manifest destiny with Trail of Tears.
With reference to the object of the right, a common general distinction is among:
- Real rights (from the Latin word "res", thing), which include:
- Property rights
- Rights of use
Particular systems can (or could in the past) include special rights like:
- Fief rights, which included:
- Magna Carta (1215; England)
- Bill of Rights 1689 (England)
- Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789; France)
- One of the fundamental documents of the French Revolution, defining a set of individual rights and collective rights of the people.
- United States Bill of Rights (1789/1791)
- The first ten amendments of the United States Constitution.
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
- An over-arching set of standards by which Governments, organisations and individuals would measure their behaviour towards each other. The preamble declares that the
- "...recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world..."
- Other general Declarations from the UN have followed, notably the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 .
- European Convention on Human Rights (1950)
- Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982)
- Its purpose is to protect rights of Canadian citizens from actions and policies of all levels of government.
- Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (2000)
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