Long life

Do any of us know what our human rights are?

Louise Minchin wants to sit on the right - is it her right?

26 March 2016

9:00 AM

26 March 2016

9:00 AM

Apart from the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I’ve never known what my human rights are supposed to be. Presumably they include the right to go about my daily business without being attacked, insulted or otherwise abused. But there are many grey areas. Are sudden loud noises or disgusting smells violations of my human rights? And what about the deafening mirthless laughter that I have to endure in British pubs?

Perhaps my human rights are changing with age. Am I, at 76, entitled to expect an offer of a seat on a crowded Tube train? Is it my right that somebody should help me with my suitcase when I am carrying it upstairs? I don’t know. Nor do I care. But some people care very much about the deprivation of rights that they believe to be theirs.

Consider the case of the television presenter Louise Minchin, who has reportedly kicked up a fuss about being made to sit on the left-hand side of her male co-presenter on BBC Breakfast, Dan Walker. The producers tried putting her on his right, but found it ‘didn’t work’. It didn’t work, apparently, because people don’t like to see a man sitting on a sofa on a woman’s left. It feels wrong, just as it would feel wrong for a man to be seen standing on his bride’s left as he takes his wedding vows before an altar.

Nobody seems to have thought much about it before, but that’s the way that couples nearly always appear on screen, in photographs, and on public occasions — woman on left, man on right. But why? Is it, as some have said, because being on the right suggests greater authority? And if so, is it not sexist and discriminatory to make the far more experienced Ms Minchin sit on the left of the new male recruit to the programme, thus implying that he is the more authoritative of the two? Is it not an infringement of Ms Minchin’s human rights?

I wouldn’t have thought so, but then what about Anders Breivik, the Norwegian Nazi who murdered 77 innocent people in a bombing and gun massacre in 2011. His victims were mostly guilty of no more than attending a left-wing holiday camp. As an admirer of Adolf Hitler, and a man still planning to fight to the death for the triumph of national socialism, Breivik has hitherto evinced little enthusiasm for human rights. But after serving five years of his 21-year prison sentence in a Norwegian jail, he has developed a surprising interest in them. He has accused the Norwegian government of breaching a clause in the European Convention on Human Rights that prohibits ‘inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’.

In court he spelt out how. He was given cold coffee and made to eat and drink from plastic cups and plates. He was held in isolation and not allowed to see any of his Nazi friends. He wasn’t even allowed to publish books of Nazi propaganda. Worst of all — ‘worse than waterboarding’, he said — he was made to eat microwaved ready meals. All this, in his view, amounted to torture.

Cold coffee, I agree, is depressing. But I’ve nothing against plastic cups and plates. And as far as microwaved meals are concerned, I would consider it an infringement of my human rights if I weren’t allowed to put chicken tikka masala in my microwave oven. But anyway, we’re dealing here with a mass murderer whose treatment, in good old Norway, is kinder than he could expect almost anywhere else in the world. He has three cells to wander among, a television set, a computer, books, newspapers and so on.

A state attorney, winding up for the government, described Breivik as an ‘attention-hungry narcissist’ who has been found by doctors to be rather happy in jail, although he claims that the state ‘has been trying to kill me for five years’. The state’s methods, it must be said, are not as good as his when it comes to killing people. They involve letting him watch television programmes that, he says, he enjoys but cause him brain damage. This is a slower way of killing someone than shooting them.

So what do we conclude? One man’s meat is another man’s poison, one man’s human right is another man’s torture? Perhaps we should forget about having a bill of rights.

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Show comments
  • davidofkent

    There are no human rights. Even the three oft-quoted are merely human constructs. Try living in the jungle and telling the tiger that’s devouring you that he has abused your basic human rights. The corollary of a right is someone else’s responsibility. Nobody is responsible for ensuring that your personal life is protected at all times. The Law simply tries to discourage other people from taking it from you. Liberty is a nice idea. Look around and you will see Rousseau’s dictum everywhere you look. Just because the chains are not made of iron, it doesn’t mean that they are not chains. As for the pursuit of happiness, would you know it if your found it?

    • Ed  

      You have the right to protect yourself from the tiger. Whether you have the ability, now, that’s a matter of training and preparation. You didn’t meander off into the jungle without a firearm now, did you?

  • davidshort10

    I’m a bit confused on the discussion of man-woman sides in this article. I’ll reread it but I think he’s made a mistake somewhere. And PS, pity about the headline using ‘are human rights’ when presumably it should be ‘our human rights’….must be the loss of a day due to Good Friday.

  • TrippingDwarves

    Shouldn’t that be ‘what OUR human rights are’? Only asking…

    • Father Todd Unctious

      My theory that the Speccie has no proper editors seems to be gathering momentum. “Are human rights are”.
      Eton and Trinity not what they were Alexander.

      • burnedrope

        I thought it was a gentle mockery of the “sport are troops” facebook thing (Support our troops)

        • Father Todd Unctious

          Well 32 hours since it was published and no attempt to explain or change it. Looks like a schoolboy error by a 76 year old toff.

          • ClausewitzTheMunificent

            My you are an unpleasant, unctious little man.

          • Father Todd Unctious

            Sorry. You think pointing out a blatant spelling mistake in the headline makes me unpleasant and little?

          • ClausewitzTheMunificent

            Exceedingly petty to say the least.

          • Father Todd Unctious

            Ewe apsoloot Schit hed. Of course spelling is important.

      • EUSSR 4 All!

        Not sure about Trinity, but I thought Eton is all about rugger, boating, Latin and boys having fun with public school girls and with themselves?!

  • sir_graphus

    Brevik’s impression of his human rights don’t seem much more bizarre than some of our judges; e.g. that possession of a pet cat constituted near enough a family for an illegal immigrant to claim deportation would infringe his right to it. etc etc.

  • Ron Todd

    They are relative and malleable. If you are in one the political classes client groups it is your human right to get anything you want and if that means ignoring the laws the rest of us have to live to the laws will be ignored.

    • oliver cromwell

      at 76 I now understand rules are for fools and the sleep walking brain washed

      • Bokonon

        Oh, you rebel!

  • Brian Jones

    Do any of us know what are human rights are ? Perhaps not but a lot of us know what OUR human rights are.

  • Davedeparis

    In answer to the question posed by the article; yes. Rights are negative, involve reciprocal duties and are limited in number. They are a consequence of us being sentient beings and in an earlier age were called natural rights. These should not be confused with what the the ECJ and their ilk call rights which are in fact an ever-expanding wish list of capricious post modern privileges designed to render ordered liberty impossible.

  • Mr Grumpy

    I have the right to adhere publicly to Breivik’s belief system and you are a hate criminal if you invite me to justify myself. Or have I misunderstood something?

    • red2black

      He’s managed to get the salute right at last.

  • Mary Ann

    Someone needs to correct the headline, it doesn’t make sense.

    • WTF

      Its a question, it makes total sense to me.

  • James

    Human rights are what Cameron wants to remove so that human beings have no rights when the state and authorities torture, kill and commit crimes against humanity.

  • Bill Kendall

    Do you mean, “What our human our rights are” ?

  • Ed  

    The Americans have it right with their 2nd Amendment. Self-defence is the first human right; without it, none of the others matter.

  • captain pugwash

    Reading this headline I’m losing the will to live

  • uberwest

    That’s a shocker. Doesn’t this publication employ anyone with even the most basic proof-reading skills?

  • CO Jones

    Whatever our human rights may be, they are “our” human rights, and not, for heaven’s sake, “are” human rights.

    • Zalacain

      I was just going to say the same thing.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Pronunciation error morphing into a spelling/grammar error. You see it all the time in UK trash culture where education and learning are belittled as elitist

    • oliver cromwell

      not if you kill then you should lose them no tv no computer no papers made to scub your own cell and stay there till you rot

  • Malcolm Stevas

    Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Naturally, this is at the level of our own country, our established traditions etc – no nonsense about trying to apply some sort of universal “rights” (nb the KSA, Russia, China, N.Korea, the Islamic world, the ECHR etc etc) for everyone on the planet, a hiding to nothing if ever there was one.

  • Jackthesmilingblack


  • Jackthesmilingblack

    How about the right to travel?
    In which case Richard Branson stands accused of violating that right with his grossly over priced train ticket prices.

    • EUSSR 4 All!

      Are you really a bit of an unintelligent halfwit?! Well … hold on … you are! Next, please!

    • Mary Ann

      Book in advance and travel outside the rush hour, it’s cheaper.

      • TheJustCity

        Or to benefit the greatest from Virgin Trains, secure for yourself a roof seat – Indian railways style. It’s cheaper and you’ll get the best views!

  • MC

    Either “Do any of us know what are human rights?” or “Do any of us know what our human rights are?”
    It has been over a day since I noticed this and stull the copy editors leave it hanging out like an old man’s willy through a unzipped fly.

    • MC

      Finally someone checked the articlws gremer…

  • evad666

    My human rights was to take home less after tax in pay than an immigrant was gifted in benefits.

    • Mr B J Mann

      And to live in a smaller house.

      And for it to be further away from not just family, friends and support network, but much further away from your job than their jobcentre!

  • jeremy Morfey

    The author of this nonsense has clearly never been to a ceilidh, where traditionally the woman always dances on the man’s right. Since the Feminist Revolution of the 1980s though, mostly women dance with each other, and men, duly rejected, prop up the bar.

  • AdrianM

    Never confuse rights with privileges. We are not free to do what we like, when we like, how we like and where we like to do it. We have the privilege of living in an ordered and civilised society, under defined rules of behaviour. Human rights are a figment of an individual’s imagination.

  • TheJustCity

    Universal Human Rights, while once a good idea in theory, has been shown to be as harmful to society as of benefit. Perhaps it is becoming progressively more so. If a ‘dangerous person’, whose prescence in my town endangers all, cannot be removed and returned to his place of origin because his lawyers have wildly perverted the letter and purpose of HR statute – and political activist judges have connived at this – then surely Human Rights have merely become a mechanism for the propagation of crime and an extension of immorality, or, at least, a licence for chicanery and prevarication in its (and our own) ethical confusion.

    The likes of Breivik auditioning for the role of victim can hardly come as a surprise, since others of similar and no less grievous convictions have had consistent success at the game (which is really a continuation of a victimhood hierarchy/identity politics gambit that many of their coreligionists essay). And these, playing to their ethnic cultural and religious identity, have found it secures them a powerful advantage in our enlightened societies.

    • SonOfGud

      one gets the impression that Breivik is playing the human-rights botherers.. just to see how far he can push it, for his own entertainment.

      • Bokonon

        Of course he is. He’s a sociopath – that’s the sort of game they delight in.

  • Tickertapeguy

    Outside of the Declaration of Independence of the United States that included the right to life liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, I quote the “Rights of Man” after the French Revolution:

    Article I – Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can be founded only on the common good.

    Article II – The goal of any political association is the conservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, safety and resistance against oppression.

    Article III – The principle of any sovereignty resides essentially in the Nation. No body, no individual can exert authority which does not emanate expressly from it.

    Article IV – Liberty consists of doing anything which does not harm others: thus, the exercise of the natural rights of each man has only those borders which assure other members of the society the enjoyment of these same rights. These borders can be determined only by the law.

    Article V – The law has the right to forbid only actions harmful to society. Anything which is not forbidden by the law cannot be impeded, and no one can be constrained to do what it does not order.

    Article VI – The law is the expression of the general will. All the citizens have the right of contributing personally or through their representatives to its formation. It must be the same for all, either that it protects, or that it punishes. All the citizens, being equal in its eyes, are equally admissible to all public dignities, places and employments, according to their capacity and without distinction other than that of their virtues and of their talents.

    Article VII – No man can be accused, arrested nor detained but in the cases determined by the law, and according to the forms which it has prescribed. Those who solicit, dispatch, carry out or cause to be carried out arbitrary orders, must be punished; but any citizen called or seized under the terms of the law must obey at once; he renders himself culpable by resistance.

    Article VIII – The law should establish only penalties that are strictly and evidently necessary, and no one can be punished but under a law established and promulgated before the offense and legally applied.

    Article IX – Any man being presumed innocent until he is declared culpable, if it is judged indispensable to arrest him, any rigor which would not be necessary for the securing of his person must be severely reprimanded by the law.

    Article X – No one may be disturbed for his opinions, even religious ones, provided that their manifestation does not trouble the public order established by the law.

    Article XI – The free communication of thoughts and of opinions is one of the most precious rights of man: any citizen thus may speak, write, print freely, except to respond to the abuse of this liberty, in the cases determined by the law.

    Article XII – The guarantee of the rights of man and of the citizen necessitates a public force: this force is thus instituted for the advantage of all and not for the particular utility of those in whom it is trusted.

    Article XIII – For the maintenance of the public force and for the expenditures of administration, a common contribution is indispensable; it must be equally distributed between all the citizens, according to their ability to pay.

    Article XIV – Each citizen has the right to ascertain, by himself or through his representatives, the need for a public tax, to consent to it freely, to know the uses to which it is put, and of determining the proportion, basis, collection, and duration.

    Article XV – The society has the right of requesting account from any public agent of its administration.

    Article XVI – Any society in which the guarantee of rights is not assured, nor the separation of powers determined, has no Constitution.

    Article XVII – Property being an inviolable and sacred right, no one can be deprived of private usage, if it is not when the public necessity, legally noted, evidently requires it, and under the condition of a just and prior indemnity.

  • James

    The UK government has priorities wrong on human rights. British people have their rights trampled all over by the authorities but when it comes to our middle east friends they get cart blanche.

    • Mary Ann

      Of course they don’t.

      • James

        Quiet possibly you are pathologically lacking brain chemicals, as well as being deluded.

        • WTF

          She likes to think she understands simple ideas like basic rights but never posts examples but just makes vacuous assertions based on her own fantasies.

      • Joe Long

        How do you explain this then?

        “Rashid claimed he had been taught in his school that ‘women are no more worthy than a lollipop that has been dropped on the ground’.


        And yet the Quisling judge let him off

        Contrast Adam Johnson

      • WTF

        We have no freedom of speech enshrined in law so of course we don’t have rights to say what we like as Mr. Doyle found out the hard way.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Matthew Doyle: In your face, MET. Take your politically over-correct BS and shove it up your donkey.

  • Mary Ann

    You can bet your bottom dollar that if our human rights were left to the Tories to decide they wouldn’t be as good as they are at the moment.

    • WTF

      There are no human rights for Brits period. All parties except UKIP don’t believe in a constitution which would enshrine many rights that Americans have but are denied to us. Tories, Labour, LibDems, thay are all the same on this subject.

  • Mary Ann

    Glad to see they have changed the headline.

  • green hackle

    This has Got to be the Easiest question i Have Ever been Asked, Human Rights are Things that Every Body else has Except White British working class folk, The Left Wing Filth have sold them out and Very Nearly Destroyed this Country with there PC Bull S,,,

  • green hackle

    This has Got to be the Easiest question i Have Ever been Asked, Human Rights are Things that Every Body else has Except White British working class folk, The Left Wing Filth have sold them out and Very Nearly Destroyed this Country with there PC Bull S,,,

  • Chris Bartelt

    There are no ‘Human Rights’…. only privileges.

  • wasteman

    Human rights dont exist

  • mikewaller

    Could it just be that: (a) there are things that no decent human being would countenance doing to another human being other than in the most exceptional circumstances; (b) calling a list of such things human rights is as good a labels as anything else; (c) drawing a line as to what properly qualifies as such a right it very hard, something which encourages the intellectually lazy to abandon the exercise; (d) ideologues and opportunists from both left and right find the idea of HRs very inconvenient as they seriously cramp their style; and, (e) to show whose side they are on, aged apologists for some of the aforementioned ideologues and opportunists are quite happy to throw their weight behind attempts to eliminate these vital bulwarks to civilised existence?

  • WTF

    Of course we don’t have true human rights and the elite establishment wants to keep it that way. At least in America (currently), because they have a constitution its very clear what a US citizens rights are in America despite the left over there trying to dilute it. They know they can say pretty much anything without fear of being arrested on some trumped up charge by the DA’s office being influenced by politicians.

    The UK’s Criminal Prosecution Service and the Police has used the fact that we don’t have clear human rights in Britain to divide, marginalize and vexatiously bring prosecutions against people based on political dogma and nothing else. We saw it with Nick Griffin some years back when the BBC & CPS tried to fit him up on a hate crime only for a Jury to pronounce not guilty and we saw it last week when plod arrested Mr. Doyle over a trumped hate case only for the CPS to realize it wouldn’t ‘fly’ in the courts and block the prosecution.

    The only reason all UK governments refuse to legislate constitutional rights (human rights) for British citizens is it will hand cuff them against politically driven prosecutions in the future. They want the ability to cherry pick who to let off or prosecute not based on evidence or guilt but on political expediency.

    • WTF

      Whilst we’re on the subject of human rights and government interference – Here’s a thought.

      A Mind Altering Acronym – PCDM

      In the early 1980’s there was an alcoholic beverage called a PCDM that stood for a mix of Pernod & Creme De Menthe. Too much of this and it could alter your mind.

      In the 1990’s we had drug concoctions called PCDM, consisting of Pot, Coke, Dots (LSD) & Meth that were far worse than the alcoholic drugs of the 1980’s. Likewise they could affect your mind.

      Starting in the 2000’s, mind altering ‘drug’ activities were made free to all. Indeed, they are actively prescribed and force fed to us by the state and have proven to be the biggest threat to society than even booze or drugs before.

      Today’s highly toxic version of PCDM is Political Correctness, Diversity and Multiculturalism and is brought to us courtesy of the EU and our own government.

    • DBF

      If you don’t think that politicians influence DA’s offices in the US then you are either niave or delusional.

      • WTF

        I didn’t say that there isn’t political influence but their scope is far more limited because of the constitution. In the USA its more likely the DA will drop a charge due to political interference than bring a vexatious charge as happened here with plod. The on going FBI investigation into Clinton is a perfect case where everyone is watching intently to see if charges will be brought rather than bring charges.

        For example, if you shoot and kill an intruder who breaks into your home in most states you know with almost certainty that no charges will be brought. In the UK if you killed an intruder you will definitely be arrested and will have to wait until the CPS decides if you used excessive force or not and whether you’ll be charged or not. That’s what I’m alluding to, the uncertainty of UK law with the far more certainty of US law due to the constitution.

  • Roger Hudson

    If you don’t know what human rights are read Roger Scruton on the subject,as a philosopher and a barrister he knows what’s what. True human rights are all stated as a negative, the right not to be murdered or attacked , the right not to be robbed, the right not to have your children taken from you, the right not to be detained for what you say or write, etc.
    People keep making up stupid ‘rights’ like the right to internet access, ignore the modern rush to pseudo-rights and go back to the statements by people like Paine and Jefferson.

  • Sargon the bone crusher

    I have a right to fart after a capacious breakfast, and I intend to continue doing so.