By Qasim Swati (United Kingdom)
We often talk about rights and responsibilities in our day-to-day lives, but we do not concentrate sincerely and genuinely on the relationship and link between the two. Some people think that rights and responsibilities or duties are totally two different things. Some believe that rights are more important than responsibilities, while others think the other way round. However, the reality is that both rights and responsibilities are deeply linked and closely related to each other. They are correlative and do exist side by side.
If we ask for our rights, we are expected to take and accept responsibilities, too. If we are given rights and freedoms to do something, we must be responsible and accountable for what we do as well. This is why Jesus Christ says in the Holy Bible: “To whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much, they will demand the more.” (Luke 12:48).
Before we go on asking about what our rights and responsibilities are, we should know what we mean by these terms, first.
Rights: A right is a protected freedom of someone in the form of a legal or moral entitlement to have or do something. It is your opportunity to act and to be treated in particular ways that the law promises to protect for the benefit of society. Someone who has the right to something, or the right to do something, is allowed to have it or do it, often, legally or officially. A right is also known as a privilege, permission, power, authority or authorisation to have or do something.
Responsibilities: A responsibility is a state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or of having control over something. It is your duty or something that you are expected to do. This is something that you have to deal with as your duty or job. This is what you are doing to take care of something. A responsibility is also referred to as power, authority, control and duty.
We have two main sources of human rights in the forms of ‘The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR’ and ‘The European Convention on Human Rights’).
Drafted in 1950 by the then European Convention on Human Rights, but entered into force in 1953, the European Convention on Human Rights is an international treaty for the protection of human rights and their fundamental freedoms in Europe. Some of the major rights of Convention include such, as the right to life, right to liberty and security; prohibition of torture; prohibition of forced labour and slavery; right to fair trial; right to respect for private and family life; right to marry; no punishment without law; freedom of expression; freedom of assembly and association, and freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
So far the rights of the British citizens are concerned, we have such rights under the UK Human Rights Act 1998, which is mainly based on and originated from the European Convention on Human Rights. This Act gives us certain rights, some of which include the right to life; freedom from discrimination; right to privacy; right to a fair trial; right to liberty; freedom from forced labour, and freedom from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, etc.
One very interesting, ironical and hilarious thing we experience is that we tend, want and expect to get all our rights for granted without giving any consideration to the fact that we have to give something in return in the form of accepting and discharging our responsibilities. As a result, we utter and use such statements and phrases, as ‘Our Rights’ and ‘Their Responsibilities’ instead of saying ‘Their Rights’ and ‘Our Responsibilities’, whenever we are talking about our relations and dealing with others. We are not ready to accept our responsibilities, but we try to have as many rights as possible, instead. In other words, we always complain and whinge that we have been deprived of our rights and that others have infringed on our rights, but we never bother to say that we have some responsibilities, duties and obligations that we must fulfil, too.
The bottom line is that we must be willing and ready to accept and discharge our responsibilities, duties and obligations, first, and ask for our rights, later. That is why once John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States and a national hero of the country, said while addressing his nation, as “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” Similarly, the British statesman, Prime Minister, author, Nobel Prize Winner and a hero of the Second World War, Sir Winston Churchill, has highlighted the significance of responsibilities in one of his famous quotes in these words: “The price of greatness is responsibility.”
Likewise, another American President and a national hero, Abraham Lincoln, has emphasized on the importance of responsibilities and duties in such words, as “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”
A crystal clear picture of the relationship between rights and responsibilities has been given by Lewis Baxter Schwellenbach, an American lawyer, politician and judge, as such: “Every right has its responsibilities. Like the right itself, these responsibilities stem from the very nature of man and society. The security, progress and welfare of one group are measured finally in the security, progress and welfare of all mankind.”
Every country provides its citizens with certain rights, but expects them to fulfil their specific responsibilities in return. For example, the constitution of the United States of America expects the American citizens to respect and obey federal, state and local laws; participate in the democratic process; support and defend the constitution; stay informed of the issues affecting their country; defend the country, if required; serve on a jury when called upon; pay income and other taxes honestly and on time, to federal, state and local authorities; participate in their local community and respect the rights, beliefs and opinions of others.
Similarly, there are many responsibilities and duties of a British citizen, some of which are mentioned, as follows:
a) Loyalty: The citizens of the United Kingdom are required by law to be loyal and faithful to the Queen, abide by the laws of the country, honour the Royal Family, recognise and participate in national activities and holidays;
b) Voting: The UK citizens and residents are not required by law, but are expected to vote as a civic responsibility or duty;
c) Jury Duty: They have and are expected to report for jury service when called upon and play their role as jurors;
d) Paying Taxes: The citizens and residents of the United Kingdom are required by law to pay their taxes and make their appropriate and exact National Insurance Contributions, etc.
To conclude, we must contribute to the welfare, well-being, progress and benefit of the society, first, then, we should ask for our rights later. This is what we can call a system of a ‘Fair Share of Responsibility’.