Human Rights
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Human Rights

Old Problems, New Possibilities

Edited by David Kinley, Wojciech Sadurski and Kevin Walton

Reflecting on the various dichotomies through which human rights have traditionally been understood, this book takes account of recent developments in both theories of rights and in international human rights law to present new ways of thinking about some long-standing problems.
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Chapter 10: Four human rights myths

Susan Marks


In early August 2011 riots broke out in England. They started with the torching of two police cars in a suburb of London, and before long there was arson and looting in cities across the country. How could this happen? Why did it happen? There was much national soul-searching. In his initial response, British Prime Minister David Cameron denounced the riots as sheer deviance. ‘This is criminality, pure and simple’, he declared. But it soon became clear that more needed to be said, and by the next week his analysis had shifted to highlight what he took to be the underlying problem, namely, ‘the slow-motion moral collapse that has taken place in parts of our country these past few generations[.] Irresponsibility. Selfishness. Behaving as if your choices have no consequences … Reward without effort. Crime without punishment. Rights without responsibilities …’In a later statement, Cameron elaborated on that last aspect of the moral collapse. ‘The greed and thuggery we saw during the riots did not come out of nowhere’, he said. ‘There are deep problems in our society’, among which is ‘a growing sense that individual rights come before anything else’. A ‘concerted fightback’ must be waged, and that ‘means rebuilding the sense of personal responsibility that has been eroded over the years by … the twisting and misrepresenting of human rights’.

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