Issues Home About Contact Us Issue 22 - March 2021 عربى
Terminology Corner
Inalienable Right

Inalienable rights are those freedoms and entitlements that are not transferable to another party, or not capable of being taken away or denied. An inalienable right is related to the philosophical notion of natural law, which recognizes natural rights as those freedoms and entitlements that are bestowed by the fact of being human, not legislated by human-made law. Thus, such rights cannot be repealed by human laws, though one can forfeit her/his enjoyment of such a natural right by one`s own action; e.g., by violating someone else`s rights.

The Zoroastrian religion taught ancient Persians that citizens have an “inalienable” right to enlightened leadership and that the duty of subjects is not simply to obey wise kings, but also to rise up against those who are wicked. Leaders are seen as representative of God on earth, but they deserve allegiance only as long as they have farr [فَرِّ], a kind of divine blessing that they must earn by moral behavior.

The 40 Principal Doctrines of the Epicureans [المذاهب الأربعون الرئيسية للأبيقوريين] of 3rd Century B.C. Greece taught that in order to obtain protection from other men, any means for attaining this end is a natural good (PD 6) [المذهب 6]. They believed in a contractarian ethics where mortals agree to not harm or be harmed, and the rules that govern their agreements are not absolute (PD 33) [المذهب 33], but must change with circumstances (PD 37–38) [المذهبان 37–38]. The Epicurean doctrines imply that humans in their natural state enjoy personal sovereignty and that they must consent to the laws that govern them, and that this consent (and the laws) can be revisited periodically when circumstances change. The later Stoics [الرواقيون] held that no one was a slave by nature; slavery was an external condition juxtaposed to the internal freedom of the soul (sui juris) [(القانون الخاص)]. 

In European usage, the adjective inalienable originates from the Middle French aliénable and was first recorded in 1610–20, used to mean built-inconstitutionalfundamental, inherent and implicit. In the German Enlightenment, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel provided a well-developed argument for inalienability. He based the theory of inalienable rights on the de facto inalienability of those aspects of human personhood that distinguish persons from things. A thing, like a piece of property, can in fact be transferred from one person to another. According to Hegel, the same would not apply to those aspects that make one a human (natural) person.

One of the most familiar uses of the word and concept is found in a passage from the preamble of the United States of America’s Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The French Déclaration des Droits de l`Homme et du Citoyen (1789) enshrines the passage: “Les représentants du peuple français…ont résolu d`exposer, dans une déclaration solennelle, les droits naturels, inaliénables et sacrés de l`homme” (“The representatives of the French people…have resolved to set out, in a solemn declaration, the natural, inalienable and sacred rights of man”).

The 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights [AR] is an important legal instrument enshrining one conception of natural rights into international law.



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