Citizenship’s and Human Rights Relationship


Various scholars have explored the concepts of human rights and citizenship, especially the form of relationship that exists between the two. It is noted that citizenship and human freedoms are closely linked. The nature of this relationship is especially evident in the promotion of justice in the society. In this context, social justice can be understood to mean equitable distribution of key resources. It also refers to respect for diversity in the society. Social justice is important in the enhancement of human dignity. Respecting citizenship and human rights ensures that the interests of minority groups are not undermined. On the contrary, their struggles are acknowledged and rewarded. In addition, the forms of political interactions developed through citizenship and human rights ensure that changes and other concerns associated with all groups of people are addressed.

The current paper is written against this background. In the essay, the author will review some of the most important aspects of the relationship between human rights and citizenship. The various challenges affecting the realisation of human rights will be addressed. Solutions to these obstacles will also be proposed. To realise these objectives, the author of this paper will analyse various legal documents touching on these two concepts, including the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights.

Citizenship and Human Rights

Nash (1068) provides a working definition of citizenship as a concept. According to Nash (1068), nationality entails the relationship between the state and the individual or the collective society. It is defined as the state of full and equal membership to a given political community (Basok, Ilcan and Noonan 268). It also refers to the legal status that is viewed from the perspective of nationality. The state confers this status on individuals through birth, naturalisation, and other specified methods. The position of citizenship, on its part, confers specific responsibilities and rights on the individual. The obligations and privileges are defined in relation to a particular state or political jurisdiction.

Citizenship involves a wide range of elements and issues with regards to individuals and their interactions with each other as they live in one nation. The issues include rights, freedoms, equality, and civic loyalties in the communities (Nash 1069). Other elements of citizenship include emotional and cultural ties, political allegiance, and identities of individuals living in a given nation (Basok et al. 269).

Human rights, on the other hand, refer to the basic rights entitled to every individual. The rights are enjoyed by the person simply by virtue of being human (Nash 1070). Human rights are basically built on the core values and principles of respect, fairness, equality, universality, autonomy, participation, and dignity. In addition, they are protected by laws, which are internationally agreed upon.

Since human rights are entitled to all, they allow people to flourish, exploit their potential, and participate fully in the society. The rights cover all the aspects of human society and the interactions therein. Right to shelter, food, health, and education are some of the major aspects of human freedoms. Such freedoms as those related to thought, expression, and religion constitute other elements of human rights.

The Main Aspects of the Relationship between Human Rights and Citizenship

The notions of human rights and citizenship are closely inter-related. However, the two have some major variances. As already indicated, human rights cannot be alienated from the individual. The inalienable nature of these rights brings together the two concepts. Certain aspects of citizenship lead to respect or disrespect for human rights (Kiwan 38). Conversely, various elements of human rights shape the concept of citizenship.

Numerous authors have highlighted the differences between human rights and citizenship. However, most of these scholars agree on the interrelationship between the two elements. According to Kiwan (39), human rights and the modern (read western) construct of rights of citizens are entrenched into the main idea of natural rights, which are inalienable to all men. The ideals are philosophically reflected in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of the French Revolution. They are also evident in the American Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights.

According to Nash (1068), the ideals of human rights and citizenship were appropriated by emerging nation-states. They were limited to legitimate members of a given political unit. The two notions have changed over time. For instance, the concept of citizenship can be used in the mobilisation of various rights and claims. However, originally, the notion was concerned with the protection of individuals from the state, especially in relation to private property (Basok et al. 267). The concept has been stretched to incorporate social and political rights (Kiwan 40).

Citizenship has been extended further to address various specific aspects of human rights. For instance, in the recent past, the notion has been used to address issues of identity and the protection of the individual from security and environmental threats (Basok et al. 268).

The principle of human freedoms adheres to the specific notion of rights of man being inalienable (Nash 1069). One of the characteristics of these privileges is their universal nature. To this end, human liberties reveal commitment to political, social, and civil rights (Basok et al. 269). The aspects of human rights mentioned above are expressed in the International Covenant on Economic, Cultural, and Civil Rights. They are also reflected in the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Nash 1070). A critical analysis of human rights and citizenship reveals that their underlying philosophical principles are similar.

Human liberties and associated norms have influenced the nature of the rights enjoyed by citizens belonging to a given state. According to Basok et al. (268), discourses on human rights reveal the pervasive nature of this element in relation to global public culture. The rights provide an international symbolic order. They also define a framework of politics and culture. They are used to structure an institutional set of rules and norms for the global system. The emerging systems constrain and direct the activities of the state (Nash 1071).

The confirmation of conventions on international human rights has facilitated corresponding changes within national legislatures (Kiwan 38). For instance, minority groups have used human rights conventions and their ideals to demand for changes to national constitutions and constitutional rights (Nash 1072). Expansion of the rights of citizens has been achieved in the same manner. The struggle for these entitlements has been used to inspire the exploration of new international human rights.

Other forms of the relationship between human rights and citizenship can be attributed to the forces of globalisation. The influence of ‘globality’ is currently breaking down the barriers of space, time, and nations. It is transforming the planet into a global community (Nash 1077). Consequently, the links between nation-states and citizenship are destabilised. As a result, the emergence of new aspects of political action and claims relating to collective rights transcends nation-state boundaries (Kiwan 41).

New discourses have become apparent. For instance, the concepts of global citizens and post-national citizenships have emerged. Other new additions include international and transnational citizens (Basok et al. 270). The new concepts have raised the issues of universality, bringing the notion of citizenship into the domain of human rights.

The ideal of global citizens may seem far removed from daily life conditions. Some agendas related to human rights have been expanded to incorporate rights formerly reserved for a particular class of citizens. For instance, recent developments have seen rights of non-citizens increased in the nation-states they reside in. The non-citizens benefit from civil rights, such as freedom to assemble and associate, as well as right to education and health (Basok et al. 271). Immigrants who are legal residents may also be guaranteed access to complete civil rights, either by statute or through constitution (Nash 1080).

According to Nash (1079), human rights law is supposed to facilitate the achievement of equal status for both non-citizens and citizens within and across states. For instance, in the case of civil rights (which are regarded as fundamental freedoms in Europe and USA), it is apparent that liberties related to equality are well established both locally and internationally (Kiwan 41). However, states’ requirements on social and economic rights are not very clear (Nash 1067). The states are required to meet the basic needs of individuals under their jurisdiction, whether they are citizens or not. In addition, governments are expected to cooperate with international bodies to meet the basic needs of their residents.

The contemporary notion of citizenship seeks to establish free citizens that are equal. Such citizens enjoy their basic human rights fully. The concept aims at fulfilling these requirements irrespective of individual’s gender, differences, and inequalities (Basok et al. 270). An individual is considered to be exercising their human rights at par with other citizens.

According to Nash (1079), conditions set by citizenship in enabling human rights are established by disregarding inequalities, such as gender, race, and ethnicity. The citizen is considered as an individual who bears rights irrespective of their status (Basok et al. 272). An analysis of the concept of citizenship further reveals the relationship between it and human rights. Both of them share underlying principles.

According to Nash (1080), it is important to note that equality between non-citizens and citizens does not exist due to the ‘cosmopolitisation’ of human rights law. On the contrary, the proliferation of citizenship statuses in relation to human rights breaks down the absolute distinction between citizens and non-citizens. Nation-states are founded under this absolute variation (Kiwan 48).

Challenges Related to the Realisation of Human Freedoms, Especially Social and Economic Rights

The importance of human rights cannot be underestimated. As such, there is need to establish them in all global societies. There is a clear distinction between social rights on the one hand and individual and political freedoms on the other. Civil rights are basically concerned with the protection of individuals within free territories. They are expressed as freedoms of regimes and citizens (Chong 187). Social rights, on their part, refer to those liberties that regimes usually confer on the people as an obligation (Chong 189).

Social and economic rights usually focus on the plight of the impoverished populations. They also address the realisation of such rights as housing, food, and healthcare (Alston 88). One of the best ways to realise these basic entitlements is by making the universally and legally enforceable. However, several challenges have erected obstacles with regards to effective realisation of these rights.

The primary concern of social and economic rights is improvement of people’s living conditions. In addition, they are concerned with the material infrastructure needed for the existence of these people. The Charter of Economic Rights and Duties expresses the need for these rights. According to Article 7 of this Charter, every state is obliged to promote social, cultural, and economic development of its people (Nash 1072). Consequently, every nation holds the right to choose its means and goals for the development and optimal mobilisation of its resources (Alston 92).

Economic and social rights are legitimised under political and civil freedoms. In spite of this, various obstacles still plague their realisation. One of the major challenges remains the lack of political will by both states and sponsoring organisations (Nash 1073). The development has negatively affected the application of economic and social rights to national development. The universal legal system of human rights has become a sham. The same is apparent in many states around the world, especially in the developing world.

According to (Chong 188), another significant obstacle in the realisation of economic and social rights is indifference. In many nation states, it is not clear whether or not citizens are aware of their rights and duties. It is the duty of the populace to facilitate the promotion and realisation of these human rights. Without their knowledge, members of the public are indifferent with regards to their obligations, duties, and entitlements.

Chong (190) highlights the challenges associated with the legalisation of social and economic rights. The challenges constitute major obstacles in the realisation of human rights. They include the reluctance by courts to adjudicate on social and economic rights (Chong 190). It is a fact that some progress has been achieved in relation to legislation and litigation of these rights (Nash 1080). However, very few countries have granted equal status to social and economic rights within their constitutions.

Some states have incorporated these rights into their legislations. However, the courts are reluctant to adjudicate on them as social policies (Chong 190). As a result, social and economic rights are not ‘justiciable’ due to the way they have been publicly conceptualised and interpreted by courts. The rights that require action from the state are denied the ‘binding’ force that is accorded through judicial interpretations.

Controversies in relation to what constitutes violation of economic and social rights pose another major obstacle to the achievement of the same (Alston 96). Lack of political will and ‘adamancy’ by state impedes the achievement of social and economic rights. In addition, precision in relation to what is expected of these governments is lacking. Alston (106) has expressed lack of precision in statement of social and economic rights.

Chong (195) illustrates another challenge associated with social and economic human rights. The obstacle involves the controversies revolving around remedies that fulfil these rights. According to Nash (1081), contentions exist with regards to the obligations imposed by social and economic rights. In addition, the policies that may result in effective eradication of extreme poverty are debatable (Nash 1082). Such controversies impede the work of social and economic rights advocates.

An example of a major controversy curtailing the achievement of social and economic rights revolves around political issues. The roles of the government in the society and those of the market in the economy, together with the conflicting cultures of ‘communitarianism’ and individualism, pose a major challenge. The philosophical differences made apparent in this case not only constitute cultural wars, but also controversies regarding the implications that are class-based (Chong 196).

The conflicts associated with market culture are connected to political history, especially anti-Communism and Cold War. The controversy revolving around the implementation of social and economic solutions is a major impediment in the realisation of these rights. For instance, social justice activists are depicted as unreformed Marxists (Nash 1090). On the other hand, free marketers are referred to as greedy capitalists that lack social conscience (Chong 192).

The challenge of legal discourses and inaccessibility of mechanisms poses another major obstacle in relation to social and economic rights (Alston 97). The legal discourses used in explaining these rights fail to elaborate on contents. Political and civil rights have become embedded in the fabric of some communities. However, in most countries, especially those in the underdeveloped world, the institutions and discourses of social and economic rights appear unfamiliar and inaccessible (Chong 195).

According to Nash (1091), numerous groups engaged in struggles in relation to human liberties regard these rights as ‘UN-connected’ elements. Consequently, the rights are perceived as elite-oriented concepts. As such, they are far removed from the realities of the ordinary person. The inaccessibility works against the efforts made by the advocates of these rights. Alliances with the masses are not attained. The advocates fail to appeal to the public that they are meant to help.

The world powers, especially the US, also pose a major problem to the realisation of human rights. According to Alston (198), most of these powers disregard rules and resolutions of the United Nations. For instance, Chong (195) argues that the US is opposed to the ‘justiciability’ of social and economic rights.

The opposition by the US is based on neo-liberal rationales. The justifications are similar to those made by the courts when denying social and economic liberties. The argument states that nation states should only be responsible for their negative obligations (Chong 192). In addition, the critics argue that socio-economic rights are better understood as the aspirations and goals of a given state. As a result, they should be implemented privately, not under the public scrutiny. In effect, the US sets an example to other powers who disregard the international framework for the realisation of these rights.

Proposed Solutions to the Challenges Associated with the Realisation of Social and Human Rights

Advocates of social and economic rights can adopt various strategic options to overcome the challenges encountered in their activities. For instance, a number of alternatives can be used in relation to the ideological challenge. The advocates can buy the ideas of the free market activists with regards to the fact that socio-economic rights are compatible with the expansion of pro-growth policies (Chong 200). Adopting this strategy will imply reduced interference with the implementation of social and economic rights in the market. Such a situation will be achieved through social safety nets provided by states to compensate for market imbalances.

Another strategy involves avoiding ideological confrontations (Chong 200). Focusing attention on conspicuous violations will facilitate the realisation of this strategy. In addition, social and economic rights activists should enhance the clarity of legal texts. In addition, the lobbyists should pay more attention to cultural trends, social movements, and other such elements. Such concepts determine the legalisation of norms and effective compliance with the legal process. Under this strategy, law is regarded as part of the realisation of social and economic rights. It is important to note that the formal provisions of law are important to human rights. The same applies to the complex set of social relations these laws are built upon (Alston 232). Social movements have the powers to promote the enactment and enforcement of laws. In addition, the movements facilitate the basic understanding of the masses, making it possible to access the legal instruments.

Culture, Human Rights, and Citizenship

Culture is a very influential factor in relation to human rights, especially with regards to their implementation. According to Walsh (46), cultural values have both positive and negative impacts on the interpretation of human rights. Consequently, the relationship between human rights, citizenship, and culture is very complicated.

Irina (30) argues that discourses on human rights rely on cultural sources. As such, the rights are defined by the ways of life under which they make sense. To this end, it is noted that culture is neither static nor limited to external influence. In this perspective, it can be considered as a positive agent or force in the realisation of human rights.

The evolutionary nature of culture implies that it is open to creative reinterpretation from within (Irina 40). It can be regarded positively through cross-cultural dialogue and internal discourses. The impacts of these dynamics on human rights facilitate the achievement of the liberties. Such interpretations of culture enhance positive changes in relation to human rights. The change is attained through the extension of the cultural legitimacy of liberties (Walsh 60). Lack of legitimacy in relation to these rights can be regarded as a violation.

According to Hey (17), working through the local cultural paradigms would effectively address the violation of human rights in the dominant and prevailing norms. Walsh (61) postulates that cultural perspectives are pluralistic. They constantly evolve and shift between societies. The attribute is an invaluable resource in contesting and challenging the authoritarian violations of human rights.

Walsh (48) advances that the positive role that culture plays in the realisation of human rights is based on a number of assumptions. For example, it is assumed that every culture has distinct ways through which the rights can be formulated and promoted. However, it must be understood that in some way, every culture rejects some of the standards set forth by international human rights’ regimes. When human rights are defined as the protection of some essential interests, then values can be formulated to enhance them. The argument here is that every culture has an inherent aspect orienting it towards the protection of human dignity (Hey 21).

According to Irina (43), culture is a very broad concept when defined in the context of human rights. It is made up of various individual cultural resources. The individual capital includes language, informal knowledge and skills, as well as customs and values. The resources of the individual equip them with cultural skills. They afford them the ability to fully exercise and enjoy their freedoms (Hey 18).

From a legal perspective, the expounded notion of culture provides individuals with the ability to exploit their rights (Hey 20). In line with this thought, it is noted that the rule of law, culture, and human rights are represented by three elements. The elements include cultural norms and ideology. The latter is regarded as a set of comprehensive doctrines. The other element is cultural equipment (Irina 44).

According to Walsh (62), culture is learned and acquired by individuals. In addition, it can be fabricated. The ‘fabricability’ means that culture is not necessarily natural (Walsh 62). It is important to note that culture is a quality possessed by individuals. It is also possessed by private, public, social, and political organisations (Irina 42). However, the cultural dimensions of the organisations may not coincide with those of individuals. Individuals exploit their rights in a positive manner depending on their social and environmental characters. In addition, the individuals can enjoy their rights depending on the culture of the public institutions around them (Hey 19).

Irina (39) describes culture in relation to human rights and rule of law. To this effect, people are entitled to culture the same way they have a right to nutrition, housing, and clean water. For instance, the UN recognises the right to culture as a way of life. Culture is also recognised as collective and cultural freedoms. It indicates the right of the people to follow their choice.

In light of this, culture plays an integral role in the realisation of human rights. People cannot be coerced to incorporate human rights practices into their culture. A case in point is the position of women in Muslim societies. Most feminists hold that violation of women rights takes place within the family. The violations are justified on the basis of religion, culture, and tradition. According to Walsh (48), women rights activists in these communities are able to achieve positive results by manipulating culture. They pursue interpretative and discursive approach to human rights. They highlight the wrongs committed against women in their cultural and religious paradigms.

The adoption of a secular and non-interpretive approach to women rights may not have yielded significant results. The approach bases its arguments on human rights and universal values, such as democratisation and rule of law. On the other hand, the interpretative strategy appeals to the culture and religious values of these individuals. Consequently, it is apparent that culture is a very useful tool in the propagation of human rights in various social settings.

It is important to note that the culturally interpretive approach supports human rights in various traditions (Hey 20). Every culture exhibits some form of support for human rights. For instance, the women rights activists in the Muslim society base their arguments on religion and justice. Lack of such a clear strategy would imply inapplicability of the methods in enhancing human rights.

From the analysis provided in this paper, it is apparent that culture is not absolutely inconsistent with human liberties. However, it is also obvious that cultural values are not fully consistent with the various aspects of human rights. Activists and advocates can adopt additional approaches to exploit culture in enhancing these rights. For instance, they should start by choosing the ideal cultural equipment to achieve their goals. Human rights should enhance individual’s access to cultural frameworks that dominate their public institutions. As a result, these authorities would be able to interpret, deliberate on, and enforce human rights at the cultural level.

Similarities and Differences between Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights

The major similarity between the Declaration of Rights of Men and the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights is found in the objectives of the two proclamations. The proclamations put forth the inalienable rights of men by virtue of their being human beings. For instance, the two documents open by acknowledging the rights, freedoms, and dignity of every human being (Walsh 49). Both proclamations also postulate the rights of men in relation to the state. In addition, they illustrate the obligations and responsibilities of these individuals with regards to the state and other persons.

The difference between the two proclamations is in relation to their audience and developers. For example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was developed by the UN Council. The developers of the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen are different. The declaration was developed by the French National Assembly. However, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights seems to be the one that can be easily realised. The proclamation states the rights of men in a precise manner compared to the other document. As a result, the implementation of these liberties as stated in the document can be effected without any challenges.


The United Nations Organisation, various international regimes, as well as non-governmental organisations are conducting various initiatives to promote human rights globally. However, realising these human rights faces numerous challenges, arising from implantation aspects, to enforcement.

Some of the impediments to human rights objectives realisation as highlighted in this study include indifference manifested by some nations. The task of realising human rights is not an undertaking of a single country, in relation to its citizens only. Countries such as the USA have been a hindrance to human rights which do not favour their government internationally.

Locally, governments have been using excuses, to prioritise other objectives as opposed to human rights. Autocratic regimes on the other hand show little or no regard for human rights. Large proportion of the global population exhibits massive ignorance in relation to their human rights.

In line with all these challenges, realisation of human rights has been, and still remains a very challenging undertaking. Newer and better approaches to realisation of human rights globally must be developed. The international community must be united to realise these objectives. Milestones for each country in relation to human rights implementation must be established.

It will also be essential for the global population to be enlightened in relation to human rights, in the simplest manner for comprehension. In this manner, human rights objectives will be more effectively realised. Otherwise, the task will remain a daunting one in the near foreseeable future.

Works Cited

Alston, Philip. “U.S. Ratification of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: The Need for an Entirely New Strategy.” American Journal of International Law 1.1 (1990): 84-372. Print.

Basok, Tanya, Suzan Ilcan and Jeff Noonan. “Citizenship, Human Rights, and Social Justice.” Citizenship Studies 10.3 (2006): 267-273. Print.

Chong, Daniel. “Five Challenges to Legalizing Economic and Social Rights.” Human Rights Review 10.1 (2009): 183-204. Print.

Hey, Hilde. “Universal Human Rights and Cultural Diversity.” Human Rights & Human Welfare 1.2 (2001): 17-20. Print.

Irina, Dan. “A Culture of Human Rights and the Right to Culture.” Journal for Communication and Culture 1.2 (2011): 30-48. Print.

Kiwan, Dina. “Human Rights and Citizenship: An Unjustifiable Conflation?.” Journal of Philosophy of Education 39.1 (2005): 37-50. Print.

Nash, Kate. “Between Citizenship and Human Rights.” Sociology 43.6 (2009): 1067-1083. Print.

Walsh, Caroline. “Compliance and Non-compliance with International Human Rights Standards: Overplaying the Cultural.” Human Rights Review 11.1 (2010): 45-64. Print.

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