The distinction between universal human rights and jurisdiction specific legal rights has existed from the earliest days of formal justice. The story ‘The Nights Mary Poppins Died’ provides a useful context for elucidating this distinction. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the founding document of modern human rights doctrine. Framed in the aftermath of the Second World War, “it was composed by an international committee of experts representing a great range of ethical traditions. Although its members never lost sight of the political dimensions of their assignment, they made an extraordinary effort to understand each other and to identify common ground” (Beitz, 2003). While ‘human’ rights is meant to represent what is common among all peoples across the world, ‘legal’ rights on the other hand were narrower in scope, representing the local political and cultural sensibilities. This essay will attempt to do the same by way of discussing the rights of characters Charles Mandox and Bill Gates.
Theoretically, anyone inBritainis eligible to possess surplus wealth, to pursue Ivy League education and adopt a bohemian lifestyle. But, in reality, the social class into which one is born pre-determines many of these attributes. Charles and Bill represent two opposite ends of the socio-economic spectrum inBritain. The former is born into a life of leisure, privilege and wealth, while for the latter they remain just a dream. Alongside such advantages, Charles had also acquired robust physique and attractive looks from his parents. In spite of possessing equal ‘legal’ rights Charles’ background has given him a head start over Bill. To compound this disparity further, Charles engages Bill in an exploitative sexual relationship. For example, when Charles bought the majestic Bleak Hall, he allowed Bill to stay in it in exchange for gratifying his sexual needs. Bill, who was an alcoholic and his earnings barely above subsistence levels, hardly had a choice in this matter. Charles is also guilty of violating Muriel’s trust. Throughout the period of their courtship and marriage Charles had never revealed the true nature of his relationship with Bill. Although unethical behaviour in the realm of interpersonal relationships is not illegal, the dishonesty of Charles surely violates the spirit of humanitarian law as prescribed by the European Convention on Human Rights and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Apparently, Bill is being exploited by Charles in this relationship of convenience. But, such is his upbringing that Charles sees no injustice in this relationship. Instead he sees it as his ‘right’. This is a strong case in support of the viewpoint that ‘legal’ rights are not always consistent within the founding principles of universal ‘human’ rights (Gordon & Wilmot-Smith, 2006).
Bill, on the other hand, “knew himself to have fewer rights than Charles. He did not for example, seem to exercise the right to own any property or to command a living wage for any work he might do”. The only source of sustenance for Bill is his knowledge of some dark secrets related to the affairs of Bleak Hall. As long as he kept those secrets to himself he would be taken care of by Charles – these secrets were Charles’ homosexual relationship with him and the murder of Gabrielle Kasprov by Charles’ wife Muriel. Legislators inBritainand in rest ofEuropehold the view that issues between two individuals, as long as they are not blatantly abusive, should be left for the individuals concerned to sort out for themselves. The cases of Charles and Bill dwell on the borderline of this thumb-rule and hence provide opportunities for exploitation and coercion.
Universal human rights derive from “self-evident” and “innate” truths pertaining to human nature and human civilization. By definition universal human rights are apolitical, for they are applicable to people across all geo-political, ethnic, racial, gender and socio-economic backgrounds. In the introduction to his book Human Rights in the Private Sphere, author Andrew Clapham asserts that “the fundamental rights and freedoms contained in the European Convention on Human Rights are highly relevant for cases which concern the sphere of relations between individuals and whether victims should be protected from non-state actors”. The implication being that there is lack of proper enforcement in theUnited Kingdomof “the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights, as also at the European Commission and Court of Human Rights inStrasbourg, and at the European Court of Justice inLuxembourg”. (Clapham, 1996, p. 1) To place this fact in the context of the story, the conduct of Charles and Bill do not meet these human rights standards.