It has been 70 years since the philosopher Hannah Arendt, a German-Jewish woman, coined the phrase, “the right to have rights”. Hannah was forced to flee Nazi Germany only to be interned in France, and then refused entry to the USA.
Hannah saw that the problem with human rights is that they require a society to enforce them.
There is no absolute list of human rights innately possessed by all people. Rather, people acquire their rights by becoming a part or member of a political community. Today, that means becoming a citizen of a nation state.
The right of citizenship is one of the most important human rights. Migrants who are not citizens of a nation state are often detained, abused and dehumanised by that state, while even citizens can have their citizenship taken away if it is deemed politically acceptable, such as when they commit a serious crime or travel overseas to fight for a foreign cause.
Exclusion means rights are taken away. Society should be built around inclusion, where citizens, despite their crimes or despite acting in a politically unacceptable way, still remain members of society. It is only when we include others that we can help them.
For more information about Arendt’s philosophy and how it is interpreted today, have a read of this article in The Guardian.
According to The United Nations Refugee Agency, there are currently over 68 million people in the world who have been forcibly displaced from their homes, including over 25 million refugees. There are over 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights.
The Rohingya, the Syrians, the Libyans, the Yemeni, the caravan of migrants on the southern border of the USA, the asylum seekers locked up by Australia on Manus and Nauru, are all brutalised because they are excluded from the political community that confers rights.
Rights are fragile and unstable, and they are a collective rather than an individual entitlement. To create a just society, there must be a common set of human rights for all and they must be rigorously defended. Excluding people from citizenship denies them their human rights and takes away our ability to create a just society.
Defend the weak, not the strong.
For the many, not the few.