The Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes sweeping pronouncements about rights to housing, education, etc. Who is obliged, however, to see that such rights are positively protected or practiced--the universe? The UN has no institutional standing to require me to house the homeless. Isn't my role not to interfere with people seeking housing, just as I honor another' right to free speech by doing nothing to stifle her expression? The Declaration seems like it should be recast as a desired state document that serves as a guide for government policy and law. Do philosophers find the Declaration sound?

Your question actually seems to be several rolled into one.

In general, I think you're asking about what sorts of claims are being made when the UN Declaration states that there are rights to housing, education, etc. Your remark that you yourself only have to not interfere with others seeking housing seems reasonable (though I wonder whether you would agree that you have no obligation to provide housing if (say) your community is struck by a natural disaster that renders large numbers of people homeless). However, I gather that the UN Declaration is asserting that such rights are rights against one's state or society rather than against the members of states or societies. To say that individuals have a right to housing is not to say that particular individuals are obligated to house them. Instead, this right is one held against a collective: society, or the state as its representative.

Secondly, the rights to which you refer appear to be positive rather than negative rights. To have a negative right to X is to a have a moral claim that others not interfere with your pursuit or enjoyment of X. To have a positive right to X is to have a moral claim that others provide you with X. The UN Declaration is most plausibly interpreted as asserting that individuals have certain positive rights (housing and education among them) against their state or society. States or societies are obligated, on this interpretation, to provide such goods to their members. (Notice that these being positive rights against states or societies is compatible with such goods only grounding negative rights among individuals, i.e., individuals may not interfere with one another in the pursuit or enjoyment of these goods but do not have any obligations to provide such goods to one another.)

Lastly, you ask about the UN's standing to enforce these rights. Certainly there are important practical and political problems associated with the fact that the UN is not a 'world-state' with the capacity to enforce such provisions. But a more charitable interpretation of the UN Declaration is that it articulates moral standards to which the members states are to aspire. The rights in question are thus moral or "human" rights, rights individuals have 'naturally' and independently of their recognition by others, not legal rights enforced by some political body.

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