It is important to understand the relation between and distinction of human rights and citizenship rights. The theory of natural rights suggests that certain rights, belonging to human beings, are in fact natural rights. The theory also secularises the concept, that is, draws it out of the Christian natural law tradition and says that human rights belong to all human beings by virtue of being human.

The core of human rights is ‘dignity for all at all times’, while for citizenship it is an acknowledgement of ‘agency’—of the ability to ‘act’, of ‘personhood’ or ‘adulthood’. Only citizens have the right to elect and be elected. While even refugees can claim good governance as their right, it is only citizens who can claim participation in government as a right. The choice of government and representatives is intrinsic to participation. This means that in monarchies there are less citizens than in democracies. The more egalitarian the society, the more likely that there will be more citizens. With increasing cost of participation in elections, even democracies are restricting participation to only the wealthy.

Hypothetically speaking, human rights belong to human beings even if they did not live in the framework of a state, or any other form of political society. On the other hand, citizenship rights refer to those rights that belong to those who are members of a particular state. They include many human rights listed in the declaration, or conceived in other charters and treaties, but many rights of the citizens may not be ‘human rights’.

The French Declaration of 1789 noted this distinction between the rights of citizens and the rights of man. A number of rights of the citizen, as we see them today, parallel the charter of human rights promoted in the UN Declaration. In the case of India, the rights outlined in the Indian Constitution are similar in content to those in the two key covenants on civil and political rights, and social and economic rights. Human rights provide the moral horizons for the struggle for citizen’s rights.

Historically, there have been conceptions of citizenship and citizen’s rights, without having a notion of human rights. In Aristotle’s theory, set in the Greek city-states, there were citizens with rights but not everybody was a citizen. Slaves, women and children did not have any rights. Women and slaves were meant only to assist the head of the household who was both a man and a citizen. Citizen’s rights are fundamental which implies that they are above the tribulations of day-to-day politics

Yasemin Soysal’s article raises the interesting and important question of the relationship between citizenship and human rights, and correctly remarks on their entangled histories. T.H Marshall delivered the lecture on which his essay is based in 1949, according to which, one understanding of citizenship is that it provides the principle vehicle through which most people access their universal human rights, for as Donnelly (2003) has remarked, many such rights are made available through lower level provisions not normally requiring recourse to international law. In a complementary argument, Beck (2006) stresses the Citizenship and human rights 43 British Journal of Sociology 63(1) © London School of Economics and Political Science 2012 incorporation of human rights instruments into domestic law as an important aspect of what he calls ‘cosmopolitanization’, while Turner (1993) views universal human rights as a historical phase in the development of rights which extends beyond citizenship. It may be more accurate to say that scholars have rather used citizenship as a yardstick against which to measure the power of human rights;

Indeed, human rights now become the yardstick against which citizenship is assessed, and in this connection Somers (2008) has written of the failure of Federal relief systems in the USA to address the plight of those left homeless and destitute in the wake of hurricane Katrina. Faced with such radical exclusion Somers reaches for the language of human rights, rather than that of citizenship. For him, human rights have the potential to create new meanings and values as novel subjects and situations lay claim to their protection, and as new rights are brought into being.


Human rights movement in India, today, can be said to encompass a variety of groups and institutions that struggle for the rights of the marginalized. It began with a core focus on civil liberties and insistence on the application of the rule of law by state and its machinery. It especially pointed to the use of violence in dealing with those struggling for the traditionally oppressed. While the initial momentum to the movement was provided by the struggle against British colonialism, the context changed after independence.  After independence, the focus of the rights movement was essentially on struggling for civil rights of individual citizens.  It amounted to curbing the press, illegal detention of the opposition, arbitrary arrests and police violence. The civil liberty and democratic rights groups protested against these draconian measures of the state. Moving further, the movement today includes a variety of struggles, it is indeed a ‘rainbow coalition’ of social movements on issues of natural resource management and livelihood, multicultural identities, gender issues and opposition to communalism among others.




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