There is an ad on television at the moment that really gets my goat. I have a cold shiver every time it’s on. No, it’s not the Go Compare opera man, it’s an ad for skincare that starts with the line “Your skin has 3 fundamental rights…”

Skin doesn’t have rights, and I find the notion offensive. “The right to moisturisation”? Puh-lease!

Although this is just a small, trivial example, I think this ad (I can’t even remember what the product is, so it fails on that level too!) represents a wider problem, where the Human Rights Act, and the broader concept of human rights, is trivialised and misunderstood. A right is different to a want. And rights often come with responsibilities.

Afua Hirsch has an excellent regular column in the Guardian, Human Rights Watch. She also writes, along with Henry Porter, the Liberty Central Blog. In a blog post last week, Hirsch writes:

“… in England, the Human Rights act is unloved. There is a view – largely based on misunderstanding, in my opinion, but I’m a lawyer so I’m told I don’t count that the human rights act is a villain’s charter. It is accused of protecting criminals and thugs, and all the while failing to protect the law-abiding public from more important developments, like the spread of surveillance.”

Hirsch goes on to say that in Northern Ireland and Scotland they have differing approaches and attitudes to the Human Rights Act. In NI especially, perhaps because events that have violated people’s rights and scared the public are so recent, they are pushing for their own Bill of Rights that goes further than the current one, “whether the law should protect the right to housing, work and education – socio-economic rights that are barely even discussed in Great Britain.”

But not only is the Human Rights Act undermined by people claiming that it focuses on protecting “the bad guys”, as Hirsch mentions above, but it is also undermined by people who misuse it – either in name or in practice. The number of times you hear someone claim “But it’s my right to… drink more even though I’m inebriated/talk loudly at the cinema and annoy other patrons/take up two seats on the bus…”.

“It’s a free country.”

Why does the concept of rights and freedom get associated with selfishness and individual wants over and above what society needs? It’s offensive to those people who genuinely don’t have their human rights, who don’t have the freedom to make ridiculous, generalised complaints about “rights infringements”.

Human rights walks the fine line between an individual’s needs and what society requires to function and provide for its citizens. You may have the right to do whatever you want to your own body – like continue drinking even when you’re drunk, for eg – but what if that makes you violent towards someone else? Or you end up in hospital, and taxpayers have to foot the bill? Rights and responsibilities go hand in hand and should not be used and abused for trivial, petty wants.

Skin doesn’t have rights. But we all have a responsibility to challenge the misuse of such an important concept.

By Charlotte George, Media & Communications Officer

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