In human rights documents, such as the United Nations' Universal Declaration or the European Convention, the rights identified as universally possessed by human beings just in virtue of their humanity are very thinly specified. Taken together, the rights specified in such documents suggest, or more strictly, imply " but with a certain deliberate vagueness and latitude " a conception of what is minimally required for individuals to have a chance to live free and flourishing lives. But this unwritten part of human rights instruments is very important and needs to be fleshed out in a serious debate about what talk of human rights implies as to an acceptable picture of a good human life.
An important example is the question whether the 'right to life', which figures early in all such instruments, implies a right to choose when and how to die also; another is the question whether the right to freedom of conscience amounts to a right to be protected from the forced imposition of religious observance or conformity. A third concerns the position of women in 'traditional' and strongly religious societies; because human rights instruments do not discriminate on gender grounds in recognising or attributing rights, it follows that they give equal protection to women " but in many parts of the world women suffer deficits of rights, in ways not only harmful to the women concerned personally, but which also prevent the development of the societies to which they belong.
These points show that we are at the second crucial stage in the development of human rights thinking. The first was gaining widespread international recognition for the very idea of human rights " that has been more or less successful. The third will be achieving enforcement of human rights provisions, by bringing every dictator and oppressor to trial and punishing every violation of human rights. The current second stage is expanding the thin minimum meaning we attach to ideas of rights into a rich understanding of what those ideas imply about the human good. We need to make a start in that direction.Reuse content