It is worth examining the common conception in the Anglo-American tradition that rights are solely a form of personal entitlement. Many in Asia and the former Soviet Union, for example, argue that rights are equally an entitlement and a duty. Individuals have a reciprocal obligation to respect the rights of others if they expect to have their own rights respected in turn.
Take, for example, the right to religious expression. This right ensures that members of religious minorities are protected from interference in the exercise of their religious freedom; at the same time, it means that they must display the same tolerance when it comes to other religious practices that may differ from their own. In taking advantage of one’s own freedoms, one accepts an obligation to respect the freedoms of others. Only in this way can the rights of all be protected and a measure of social harmony is achieved.
Systems of social organization that give equal priority to both the community and the individual tend to emphasize the dual nature of rights as both freedoms and duties. Society as a whole can only thrive when everyone fulfills his or her obligations to their fellow citizens. Under this view, the ability to exercise rights must first be earned by respecting them in others.1 This principle is enshrined in Article 29 of the Universal Declaration, which states, in its first clause, that “Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.”5
The doctrine of logical correlativity — that rights and duties are correlative — is dominant among philosophers.6 This view conceptualizes rights and duties as flip sides of the same coin; one person’s right exists by exerting a duty upon others. For example, the right of free speech “is understood in terms of the recognition that an individual’s interest in self-expression is a sufficient ground for holding other individuals and agencies to be under duties of various sorts rather than in terms of the detail of the duties themselves.”7
Logical correlativity affords a measure of flexibility to the formulation of international human rights standards. Correlativity is crucial because it means that the framing of moral claims in terms other than rights is not necessarily problematic. The recognition of an obligation may well signify the presence of an implicit right; thus a moral theory couched in the language of duty can be a legitimate vehicle for the advancement of rights.8