Third Generation Rights

While drawing upon, interlinking, and reconceptualizing value demands associated with the first two generations of rights, is best understood as a product, albeit one still in formation, of both the rise and the decline of the nation-state in the last half of the 20th century. Foreshadowed in Article 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaims that:

everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

It appears so far to embrace six claimed rights. Three of these reflect the emergence of "Third World" nationalism and its "revolution of rising expectations," i.e., its demand for a global redistribution of power, wealth, and other important values: the right to political, economic, social, and cultural self-determination; the right to economic and social development; and the right to participate in and benefit from "the common heritage of mankind" (shared Earth-space resources; scientific, technical, and other information and progress; and cultural traditions, sites, and monuments). The other three third generation rights--the right to peace, the right to a healthy and sustainable environment, and the right to humanitarian disaster relief--suggest the impotence or inefficiency of the nation-state in certain critical respects.

All six of these claimed rights tend to be posed as collective rights, requiring the concerted efforts of all social forces, to substantial degree on a planetary scale, and implying a quest for a possible utopia that projects the notion of holistic community interests. Each, however, manifests an individual as well as collective dimension. For example, while it may be said to be the collective right of all countries and peoples (especially developing countries and non-self-governing peoples) to secure a "new international economic order" that would eliminate obstacles to their economic and social development, so also may it be said to be the individual right of every person to benefit from a developmental policy that is based on the satisfaction of material and non-material human needs. Also, while the right to self-determination and the right to humanitarian assistance, for example, find expression on the legal as well as the moral plane, the majority of these solidarity rights tend to be more aspirational than justiciable in character, enjoying an as yet ambiguous jural status as international human rights norms.

Thus, at various stages of modern history--following the "bourgeois" revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries, the socialist and Marxist revolutions of the early 20th century, and the anticolonialist revolutions that began immediately following World War II--the content of human rights has been broadly defined, not with any expectation that the rights associated with one generation would or should become outdated upon the ascendancy of another, but expansively or supplementally. Reflecting evolving perceptions of which values, at different times, stand most in need of encouragement and protection, the history of the content of human rights also reflects humankind's recurring demands for continuity and stability.

Encyclopedia Britannica