Third generation rights

Together not individual

The idea of ‘generations’ of human rights was first characterised by Karel Vasak in 1977 when he argued in the UNESCO Courier that the international community was beginning a third generation of human rights that were not individual but rather were collective in nature.

Identification of collective rights

Such rights embrace both a notion that there are some rights that are indivisible and that are therefore achieved by groups of individuals, e.g., the right to a clean environment, the right to peace, the right to development, and the right to self-determination, as well as a recognition that individuals may be part of social groups that require their collective rights to be more clearly recognised.

The importance of collective rights

Third generation rights, in other words, highlight the fact that human beings are social beings. They interact with others, forming communities and taking part in cooperative, collaborative and collective endeavours that may, in turn, have rights implications.

Thus first generation rights – those individual rights that focus upon civil rights and political rights – and second generation rights – those individual rights that focus upon social and economic rights – do not challenge the idea of collective rights, but neither do they tell the full story.

So much of what humans suffer – the impact of conflict, of climate change, marginalisation and dispossession – they suffer together and thus recognising the importance of so-called third generation rights also recognises that as human beings our responsibility is not only to ourselves but also to others.