Azetbur: Inalien. If only you could hear yourselves. Human rights. Why, the very name is racist. The Federation is no more than a Homo sapiensonly club.
An extra-terrestrial, a vampire, a mythical or magical being, or maybe even a half-human being or a person who transforms into a monster or has somehow gained superpowers runs the risk of being found out. If the general public discovers their true nature, they could be dissected in a lab or suffer some equally unpleasant fate. Mind you, as sapient beings who look (and possibly are) quite human, they still should enjoy some basic civil rights (even if they aren't documented citizens; not even the most extreme Minuteman Militia member has suggested dissecting illegal aliens). However, this does not stop the government from wanting to imprison the being (without trial, naturally) and use them as subjects in endless (probably painful) experiments.
This means said being has to constantly run from the authorities as opposed to going to the nearest court and having a restraining order issued, or perhaps going to the media about it (this is especially jarring when the being can prove its claims), calling 911, or applying any of the myriad legal remedies that protect everyday people from what amounts to a metric buttload of civil rights violations and outright felonies committed against their person. Somehow, none of the "normal people" notice, and likely wouldn't care if they knew.
The pursuers, who have the power of the FBI, CIA, or even the Postal Service (hey... don't sneer at the Post Office — the Postal Inspector's office is the only law enforcement arm of any government in the US with a perfect 100% conviction rate) behind them, never seem to realize that they could be arrested for their treatment of the being, losing their careers, reputations, and freedom because of it.
Technically, extra-terrestrials, mermaids and other such beings aren't human, granted, so this might explain why they don't use any legal recourse.
This technicality does not cover humans who have gained powers, however. Having the ability to fly does not make you non-human. Neither does being in the wrong time or from an Alternate Universe. Those are all still human beings, and people in any court of law.
Likewise, humans who are legally dead still have rights, as nothing in the law restrict rights to only living people. In reality, dead humans still have property rights, that is to say, their estate, although someone else is needed to manage and dissolve it. The dead would presumably have other rights or protections under the law if they asked for them. And while death legally means cessation of brain activity, which vampires may not have, no doctor is going to declare someone dead when they're moving around and talking, so they probably aren't even 'legally dead' in the first place. Zombies and other non-sentient undead on the other hand, might indeed be brain dead, and a doctor might be willing to declare them so. Either way, it's not like a zombie is going to be demanding their rights be recognized. (Or demanding much more than "Braaains!!!").
It is worth noticing that "people" have rights, not "humans" (not that this isn't rocky territory). So if a writer wished to ignore the issue, they can mention that courts declared them "people", no need to rewrite any laws or constitutions at all. This isn't all that great a stretch, as Real Life courts have ruled that such bodies as governments, civic organizations and corporations can be recognized as 'persons' so that they can be legally represented and/or sued in criminal/civil cases.
Note that this trope is only valid for places in which there are civil rights for humans to begin with. A perfectly ordinary human would have to escape a tyrannical government that was persecuting him as much as any mermaid or vampire.
Of course, as many Real Life events have demonstrated to the world, even places with great (though rarely unassailable) reputations for upholding human rights for their own citizens, can and have blatantly ignored said rights when it suits. So maybe the writers really are on to something.
A subtrope of Fantastic Legal Weirdness, What Measure Is a Non-Human?, and usuallynote Hollywood Law. Overlaps with They Would Cut You Up. See also Zombie Advocate, when a character advocates for the rights of non-humans.
- A bike parts company published a series of tongue-in-cheek magazine ads claiming they'd captured aliens and forced them to design their products.
"At first, we thought it was inhuman to keep a stranded alien captive and force him to design superior cycling components. Then we realized: he's not human."
- Ghost in the Shell: Arise states that Motoko Kusanagi exists in a sort of legal limbo. As a person she's a Japanese citizen, but her cyborg body is the property of the Japan Self-Defense Force (due to the government footing the bill for creating cyborg bodies for her after she was injured in a car crash while in the womb) so for all practical purposes she's government property. She's emancipated at the end of the first episode.
- The Ghouls in Tokyo Ghoul have no rights. In fact, the Ghoul Countermeasure laws make just being born a Ghoul a capital offense. Those who are captured are immediately executed, even children, which most humans are okay with. Anyone who tries to help or hide Ghouls from the CCG is subject to immediate imprisonment and seen as worse than someone who aided a human murderer. Then again, it's not hard to understand why, since Ghouls need to feed on human flesh to survive and there are some who see humans as an inferior species.
- Ajin is pretty much this and the obvious reaction by the oppressed parties that would follow.
- Averted in Lyrical Nanoha. The Time-Space Administration Bureau legally recognizes clones, cyborgs, Pure Magic Beings, Living Weapons, Familiars, and even Technically Living Zombies as people. Sure, they'll arrest people for making most of those things, but they aren't about to punish victims that didn't have any say in the matter.
- The Civil War crossover between Young Avengers and Runaways mined this a lot: S.H.I.E.L.D. "cape killers" feel okay with firing on Victor because he's "just a robot," and Hulkling, Karolina, and Xavin are all lined up by a Mad Scientist for dissection because they don't have any legal rights as aliens. Subverted in the "Battle Damage Report", where Tony Stark notes that while Karolina isn't human, she technically should have had rights as a US citizen because she was born in California.
- In Elseworld's Finest: Supergirl & Batgirl, Supergirl discovers Lex Luthor murdered her baby cousin. When confronted about it, Luthor calmly—and smugly—states killing an alien can't be considered a crime.
- Bar Sinister from Shaman's Tears were a group of genetically uplifted animals. The evil corporation that created them felt justified in treating them as possessions as they had a court ruling stating that they weren't human.
- The G1 Transformers comic practically takes this to Humans Are the Real Monsters level: The government organisation Triple I and the RAAT military group they sponsor treat all giant robots as a menace, resulting in them firing on any Autobot they see without provocation, capturing and dissecting them, and ultimately trying to execute a group of captured Autobots in retribution for a Decepticon attack. (Their bodies are crushed but the one man in the organisation who's twigged they're on different sides saves their brain modules.)
- In Gold Digger, this is why Serisha was able to run her horrific experiments on Summoner/Array without interference from Agency Zero.
- Subverted in a Warren Vampirella episode, where our heroine does a job for the CIA and gets a USA passport (i.e. citizen rights) as a reward. (It certainly helped that she belongs to the good gals, looks human when she doesn't show her fangs or wings, and also otherwise makes a completely Unusually Uninteresting Sight. OK, maybe not the last part...)
- Totally averted in Hellboy. Hellboy (demon), Abe (fishman), Krausse (disembodied ghost) and Roger (homonculus) are all legally recognized as people with full rights through their service to the B.P.R.D., though there's some debate over Roger at first. Said debate involves a bomb being put in his chest. This is the first of a series of events that leads to Hellboy's dissatisfaction with, and eventually quitting, the B.P.R.D.
- Inverted in ARTICLE 2. Equestrian law was not written with humans in mind, and therefore it does not apply to them. Luna even makes a joke that, legally, Shane, the human, would be considered a pet rather than a prisoner.
- In All-American Girl though the pony DJ is raised as a human, she's not seen as one and has to endure being treated more than once as a pet (much to the anger of her adoptive human parents) until the Supreme Court rules on her tenth birthday that all sapient creatures are legally persons.
- And interesting variation occurs in The Conversion Bureau: Not Alone. Equestria is acknowledged by pretty much the rest of the world as a sovereign country, and most ponies that travel to other countries not only have human rights, but diplomatic privileges as well. But once the world declares war on Equestria, countries like South Africa and Brazil revoke all the ponies' rights but the most basic ones, and begin rounding them up — regardless of their diplomatic status — and placing them in prison camps as menaces to public safety. Pony scientists stationed the Arctic are given the chance to prove their loyalty to their human colleagues, and thus a few of them evade getting detained by the British Army, which makes this principle of "preventive detention" seemingly more subjective than it generally should be.
- A lull in the action in The Headhunt has the all-alien cast discussing the Federation's humanocentric No Transhumanism Allowed policies (the rationale is Earth's Eugenics Wars, but they were centuries ago and most alien species didn't suffer anything similar), coming to the conclusion that banning genetic augments from public office or service in Starfleet actually violates discrimination clauses of the Articles of Federation.
- In Origin Story, Alex Harris is specifically told that she doesn't have any rights anyone in law enforcement need to respect, because officially she is not a person but a walking, talking weapon of mass destruction. In addition, Henry Peter Gyrich at one point makes the argument that, as she is not a human being despite appearances (Alex is actually a Kryptonian), his office has classified her as a strategically useful animal and thus is the property of the U.S. government. This pisses off Tony Stark (who at that moment on the fic's timeline is still on his hard-core fascist Jerkass pro-reg period), who fires back that this is a declaration similar to what was done to shut down a proposal planted during the American Civil War that would have given any slaves willing to volunteer to serve on the Confederate Army freedom once their service ended (and thus this implication is one of the things that make him decide to try to reform the SHRA from the inside).
- Subverted in The Devil in the Details, where Buffy uses the fact that the vampires and werewolves were made legal citizens of the US to point out that the Master of the City had no legal authority to summon anyone to his presence, and thus sending Anita Blake and Asher to force people to come meet him amounted to kidnapping.
- In Chrysalis Visits The Hague, this is invoked and subverted: Judge Mullan advises the lawyer Estermann to portray changelingkind as a race of unintelligent animals to free them of their obligation to obey the rule of law (both human and Equestrian, that is, which are assumed equal in this setting). This turns out to be a terrible idea in the long run, as it could likewise also deprive them from all their rights.
- In The Return you can be as law abiding as you want, but a bunch of scary mercenaries will still kick your door in at midnight, force you into a stress position and presume you are guilty of people eating on no evidence. Of course the various world Governments are in on this. It is made worse by the fact that being turned into a demon is more akin to rape than anything else, so after you've been victimised once, your government will come and do it to you again (one "raid" has the gunning down of a Succubus in a french maid's outfit by the Private Military Contractors in question. Turns out that she was the legal owner of a property that had been mind raped and forced into servitude). It turns out as a succubus you can live out your life without any recourse to the courts, or be shot.
- Reversed in Planet 51, where the native military wants to dissect the human astronaut.
- Splash: Semi-justified in that Madison didn't know her rights in the first place. The scientist who was after her could well be arrested for stalking, among other things.
- Explored hardcore in District 9. In theory, the aliens are legal residents of South Africa, with all the standard rights to life, liberty and property that entails. In practice, they're confined to an uninhabitable trash-heap, exploited as sub-minimum wage labor, forced to subsist off offal and cat food (although they love the cat food, that's because it's a highly-addictive Fantastic Drug to them), left to fend for themselves against crime syndicates that the police have no interest in dealing with, and are generally treated little better than animals. When an "unlicensed" nest of alien eggs is discovered by the military, they proceed to "abort" the unborn aliens. With a flamethrower. note
- Avatar: The only problem the humans (or at least the company and security leaders) have with killing the Na'vi is public relations. The Na'vi have no issues with killing humans, either. It should be noted, though, that the humans are on the Na'vi planet, far away from any government-controlled land, so the law won't touch them. And the Na'vi aren't united enough to need a standing government or strict legal system.
- Cleverly subverted in the Coneheads movie, in which INS Deputy Commissioner Gorman Seedling is pursuing the Coneheads not because they are extraterrestrials, but because they lack green cards or any other immigration papers, and thus are illegal aliens in the legal sense of the word.
Turnbull: Excuse me, sir, but should they be, in fact, creatures from another planet, isn't that the Air Force's responsibility?
Seedling: If they're just visiting, sure... but the minute they try to work here, they're mine!
- In the film version of I, Robot, the head of U.S. Robotics outright states (and does so accurately, as a matter of fact) that the death of a human being at the hands of a robot isn't a murder, because legally, murder is defined as one human unjustly, intentionally killing another. A robot killing a human is "an industrial accident". On the other hand, if somebody reprogrammed the robot to kill a person, then that would be murder, though of course the programmer, rather than the robot itself, would be charged. Later on it turns out that Sonny did kill him (for good reasons), but can't be charged by that same definition: Sonny's creator ordered Sonny to kill him, making it legally a suicide.
- Blade Runner. They don't call killing a replicant murder, they call it "retirement". This is taken to the extreme when Rachael asks Deckard if he has ever "retired" a human. In this case, of course, this would be murder not "retirement".
- Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer: When the Silver Surfer is captured, an interrogator specifically brings up this trope. He's forbidden to use his favorite tactics since they're violations of human rights. But the silver surfer is not human, so it's implied he's free to use whatever torture methods he can think of.
- In The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008), the government lets Klaatu know that he doesn't have any rights they are under obligation to respect specifically because he (Klaatu) is not a human being regardless of what body he's wearing currently.
- In the Star Wars universe, Imperial doctrine is that humans (and, when the era allowed for it, the Sith species) are considered full citizens and have the marginal protection of Imperial law and social position of citizens (for all that's worth in a theocracy ruled by batshit insane Darths and their military lackeys where the only real laws are Might Makes Right and Chronic Backstabbing Disorder), along with access to military service (the only real way for someone who isn't Force Sensitive to earn any respect or social position). Any one of the thousands of other species in the galaxy are considered inferiors at best (though tolerated if they are Force Sensitive and nasty enough to join the Sith Order or just badasses capable of shooting the fellow making the speciesist remark and anyone who might take issue with the shooting), but are usually relegated to slave labor. This in contrast with the Republic which welcomes talent from all species, but has a tendency to get mired in debate over competing interests.
- In The Man Who Fell to Earth, Newton is captured and held captive by the government, slowly studied and examined against his will. He's finally let go when they've found everything they need from him, and it's too late for him to return home, leaving him on Earth.
Newton: We'd have probably done the same to you, if you'd come 'round our place.
- Mike Carey's Felix Castor series has a version of this for the undead — who are human, just postmortem, and have no clear legal status. And for demons, too. (And the resident evil scientist would definitely cut up anyone in either category as long as she could get away with it.)
- The Fifth Elephant: Subverted when the conscientious Sam Vimes insists on going through proper police procedure, including asking the creature whether it is resisting arrest, before shooting a crazy werewolf. The ethics of killing "monsters" that are also sentient creatures in the Discworld is dealt with in several of its books. For instance, Granny Weatherwax insists on having an anthropomorphic wolf given a proper burial after it is killed at its own request. The Big Bad is bringing Fairy Tales to life. In the fairy tale, the Big Bad Wolf behaves like a human, but it's okay to kill him like a wolf. By burying him as if he were human, Granny is fighting the story. So Pratchett was playing with how the story of Little Red Riding Hood is an example of this trope.
- Carrot, whose freeing of Dorfl started the golems' own peaceful self-liberation, and who once arrested a dragon. The golems are an interesting subversion in how the police behave. Vimes at one point is asked to arrest Dorfl for committing a murder which the golem was confessing to, but he knew was innocent. To get out of this, he deliberately invokes this trope, pointing out that, legally, golems aren't people and thus can't murder anyone, and if anything it's the golem's owner who's the murderer. The owner attempts to abandon his ownership of the golem, at which point Carrot points out he can't do that because it's littering. Carrot then buys Dorfl for a dollar and gives him to himself. Besides, if he owns the golem, which has no personhood, he should be liable for any crimes it commits. However, this exact predicament was avoided in Real Life by the law treating slaves or indentured servants as freemen if they did anything wrong. Of course, Golems have no choice but to obey their masters, whereas human slaves can choose to do otherwise, although this will often have painful consequences.
- Let us not forget the various races attempts at ensuring their rights, such as Reg Shoe's tireless (literally) crusade for Zombie rights.
- Several books mention "The Campaign for Equal Heights", which in a reference to the early NAACP has no dwarfs or gnomes on its board.
- A large part of Snuff is about whether Goblins should have rights and be protected by law. Regardless of prejudice against them by pretty much every other race on Discworld, when a crime is committed against them, such as the brutal murder of a young female as in the book, Vimes takes their side. In the end, Lady Sybil Vimes successfully lobbies the major governments of the Disc to pass laws granting full rights to goblins, but the murderer still cannot be prosecuted because killing goblins wasn't a crime at the time of the murder. Vimes' retainer takes care of that detail with a Vigilante Execution.
- Robert A. Heinlein's short story Jerry Was A Man is about an attempt by a genetically modified chimpanzee to achieve human rights. A very rich human woman adopts Jerry. Worried that the company that owns Jerry might decide to have him killed when he is no longer useful, she hires a law firm to have Jerry declared human. The law firm coaches Jerry on how to testify (it is technically illegal to coach witnesses, though almost impossible to prosecute). Jerry proves himself finally by singing a song to the judges in court. An episode of the short-lived Masters of Science Fiction TV series was based on this, but replaced the chimp with a genetically engineered humanoid formerly used to clear mine fields.
- In Heinlein's The Star Beast, in the back-history of The Federation we have the Cygnus Decision which established that: Beings possessed of speech and manipulation must be presumed to be sentient and therefore to have innate human rights, unless conclusively proved otherwise. Lummox's problem was the lack of manipulative organs, until she grew two arms and hands partway through the novel.
- Charles Stross plays with this a fair amount. In The Jennifer Morgue, it's a reasonably major plot point that the CIA doesn't consider anyone with demonic ancestry to be legally human. Early in Accelerando, the main character delivers an impassioned (and eventually mostly successful) plea for the rights of digitally uploaded personalities.
- Michael Crichton's final published book, Next, has quite a lot to say about this issue as it has a few transgenic animal/humans in its cast of characters (and indeed, Dave's backstory is very sad). That said, it eventually gets to the point where even the rights of individual cells are questioned.
- Kitty Norville is kidnapped so that the kidnappers can televise themselves forcing her to turn into a werewolf on live television. They even allow her to do a piece for the camera first. They think they'll get away with it because they'll be revealing her true demonic nature. The sight of a terrified wolf cowering away from the silver-painted walls of her cell doesn't do them any PR favors.
- On the opposite end of the scale, we have Robert J. Sawyer's novel Illegal Alien, in which one of the first aliens to visit the Earth is arrested and put on trial on suspicion of murdering a human. The aliens are quite obviously more technologically advanced than humanity, and could very well wipe out the entire planet if they decided to, so only the most radical humans oppose giving the suspect a fair trial. That said, there is some argument over whether an alien can be considered "sane" by human standards, and several times it's brought up that most people think of the aliens as interchangeable and identical rather than varied individuals. It is eventually revealed that most of the aliens do not regard humans as having any rights, and planned to destroy us as a potential threat, which the alien suspect foiled.
- Subverted in Patricia Brigg's Mercy Thompson series: as technology reaches the point where it's starting to expose supernatural beings to possible exposure and/or experimentation, the fae, and later werewolves, voluntarily 'expose' themselves to the public. The respective leaders of these supernatural cultures enacted very precise public-relations plans for revealing themselves in a manner designed to maximally protect their rights and safety.
- Lois McMaster Bujold's Falling Free has the project which created the quaddies operating in a system where they could be classified as "Post-fetal experimental tissue cultures" and therefore have no rights.
- Rivers of London series:
- Becomes a bone of contention in Moon Over Soho where new guy PC Grant quotes the sections of the Human Rights Act that in theory deals with not summarily executing sentient beings (pointing out that it only says "Human" rights in the title-the actual text says "persons" a rather more vaguely defined word), old hand DCI Nightingale points out that this would blow the Masquerade wide open. Then the suspects in question kill themselves and resolve the issue neatly.
- Becomes a further bone of contention in Broken Homes, with Peter and especially Lesley getting rather impatient with magical beings who think they should get the rights that come with modern civilization and policing, while at the same time being left alone to do whatever they like. Efra points out the Human Rights Act does say that your rights under the law aren't contingent on obeying the law yourself; the police cannot decide that suspects don't have rights if it suits them.
- Terry England's Rewind (Terry England) revolves around seventeen adults who get deaged to nine-year-old children. They suddenly find themselves with a whole lot less rights as a result. For instance, Aaron's wife wanted a divorce; after he's rewound, she gleefully seizes all of his assets and sells him to an interested buyer.
- Cassandra Kresnov: Whether Sandy, an Artificial Human built by an enemy government as a Super Soldier for a war that ended relatively recently, is legally a person or a weapon is a major component of the first book's plot. She convinces Callay to grant her political asylum and citizenship partly by proving her morals by foiling the assassination of the planetary governor. This over the attempts of the Federation Intelligence Agency to abduct her and take her apart to learn more about GIs.
- A very dark version in The Laundry Files by Charles Stross, in which the US Supreme Court has ruled in secret that human and civil rights protections only apply to actual humans, freeing up the American occult intelligence service the Black Chamber to treat nonhumans (or anyone with nonhuman blood, such as the half-Deep One Ramona Random) however they like. In fairness, A, the Chamber doesn't treat humans much better, and B, most nonhuman life in the series thinks human souls are crunchy and good with ketchup.
- A central conflict of the Stardoc series through Rebel Ice stems from the fact that Cherijo, as a genetically engineered clone, is legally nonsentient and the property of her creator Dr. Joseph Grey Veil according to Terran law (a law which Joseph himself lobbied for). The citizens of Kevarzangia Two, whom Cherijo had saved from an epidemic, uniformly disagreed with this but the judge proved unwilling to overrule Terran law. The clan of Cherijo's deceased Jorenian husband Kao Torin took a more direct approach and simply staged an armed assault on the courthouse to break her out; the Jorenian government broke off all diplomatic ties with the League afterward. Joseph dies helping her escape at the climax of Shockball, and in Rebel Ice the Jorenians acquire sufficient leverage to force the League to drop their grievance and arbitrate an end to the war with the Hsktskt in the process.
- Lilith Saintcrow:
- In the Dante Valentine series Psions were underworld commodities until relatively recently, when the politically powerful Nichtvren successfully lobbied for the Parapsychic Act and Paranormal Species Act, which granted full citizenship to human Psions and paranormal creatures and laid down the ground rules for Psions' training and employment. Fantastic Racism is still a serious problem though, and the laws aren't always enforced.
- Jill Kismet mentions that the FBI and CIA operate hunter and Were units, on top of the title character's own work as a consultant with the police and law enforcer in the supernatural community. FEMA funds are also available for supernatural disasters.
- One of the Jason Wood stories had Jason defending a werewolf in a murder trial, specifically because he wanted to establish that non-human sentients were entitled to the same basic legal protections as humans under the law. He got the werewolf off by demonstrating that under the circumstances, what she did was legally self-defense - and then has her arrested for a killing she committed that could not be justified on those grounds as she left the courthouse, establishing the necessary corollary, that non-human sentients are also subject to the same punishments under the law as humans when they commit crimes. A later story continues this trend by Jason having a man arrested for a crime committed against a werewolf.
- In Aeon 14, the Phobos Accords provide for the civil rights of sapient AIs, and additionally dictate rules on their creation and upbringing as well as creating a separate legal system to prosecute AIs that commit crimes. Unfortunately the partial collapse of civilization in the Time Skip after book three causes the Accords to be abandoned.
- Inverted in the Imperial Radch series, where the Starfish Alien Presger adjudicate a galactic treaty that divides species into "Significant" and "fair game to kill on sight". The human Radchaai Empire, otherwise ruthless expansionists, are extremely careful not to jeopardize their status as Significant, because the Presger are far too powerful to fight and have too alien a mindset to interact with in any other terms.
- Santa Olivia has GMOs (genetically modified human beings) denied all rights under an amendment to the US Constitution. This is later challenged and repealed however.
- Shadow Ops has mages being automatically conscripted, while 'probes' or mages with prohibited powers (necromancy, portals, entropy magic, creating elementals)are killed out of hand, in theory. In actuality, several are kidnapped to another world (the Source) and put to work for shady corporate/government interests, where it is made clear defiance is punishable by death or lobotomy.
- The Infected: The titular Infected have superpowers, and also mental illness, and the debate on their human status is ongoing, with concentration camps proposed as a serious solution to the problem of near-weekly Infected rampages. Any Infected above the threat level of Class Three (equivalent of an armed man) is by law conscripted into the government's shady Infected Protection Bureau (but they're good people, really!) or quietly disposed of. A specific infector, or someone who is actually contagious and can spread the Infection around, is always killed out of hand.
- This is the main plot of Jean Vercors' Les Animaux Dénaturés, where a team of anthropologists attempts to prove that a tribe of "missing link" hominids (the Tropis) are sentient and thus can't be used as slaves. Their plan involves creating a Human-Tropi hybrid (through artificial insemination), killing the offspring and be put on trial for this, letting the judges decide whether it was a murder or simply the killing of an animal.
- ALF was in part hiding out over concerns that he'd be dissected-explicitly stated in the pilot and the Made-for-TV Movie Reunion Show (in which he was the only returning character-so can it be said that it was a reunion??).
- Stargate SG-1 explored this in "Enigma" when the NID tried to take the Tollans away with them to get their technology. Granted, the Tollan are human, just from another planet. It results in this exchange:
Jack: These people do have rights, you know.
Col. Maybourne: Do they? Under what nation's jurisdiction?
Daniel: How about basic human rights!?
- In Stargate Atlantis, the Atlantis Expedition has performed experiments on some captured Wraith. This is called out as a war crime, but the protagonists respond that "if they were there when the Third Geneva Convention was signed, they would have eaten the attendees instead." This comes back to bite them, in the form of Michael.
- Stargate SG-1 explored this in "Enigma" when the NID tried to take the Tollans away with them to get their technology. Granted, the Tollan are human, just from another planet. It results in this exchange:
- Star Trek: The Next Generation:
- The series explored this question a number of times, primarily with the android Data. In "Measure Of A Man", he is the subject of a hearing by a Starfleet JAG officer to determine his legal status: is he property or a person? The judge mentioned that they were "dancing around the basic issue: does Data have a soul?", which she concluded could not be proven or disproven, just as it could not proven or disproven for humans and other organic sentients. Later episodes on the topic featured Data defending the right of other artificial sentients to life and liberty, and the question of Data's rights as a "parent" when he creates his "daughter", Lal.
- This was done again with polymorphic tools called Exocomps that were proven to have gained low-level intelligence and were excellent problem-solvers.
- Star Trek: Voyager explored the rights of the holographic doctor, including his right to have a say in his treatment.
- In one episode, rather than delete months of his memory (and personality), Janeway eventually allowed him to work through psychological problems that could have kept him out of Sickbay for weeks or even months-despite the risk this might pose to the crew. Janeway had initially decided to just reboot the Doc, but changed her mind upon talking to Seven of Nine. When Janeway pointed out that the Doc was more like a replicator than a human, Seven pointed out that she, too, being Borg, was composed of parts not unlike the replicator, and wondered whether Janeway would eventually override her free will as well.
- In one episode, the Doctor had written a novel and submitted a draft, pre-editing, that the publisher thought was delightfully salacious in the way it seemed to impugn the Voyager crew, and promptly started distributing. The Doctor sued to have it stopped; the publisher argued he couldn't sue because he wasn't a person. The Federation quite sensibly has no desire to extend suffrage to an easily-replicated computer program that can be given whatever personality, desires and values the programmer wants it to have (not to mention have its Ethics directory deleted with a push of a button). For what it's worth, the final decision is a bit of a subversion of the usual outcome: the court decides that the Doctor is not legally a "person". However, in an instance of a Meaningless Villain Victory, the court decides that while he does not qualify as a "person", he does qualify as an "artist", and therefore is granted ownership rights to his holonovel anyway.
- There have been instances of respecting non-Doctor holograms, though, such as Janeway putting the ship at risk to save the holographic town of Fair Haven. Except that the town's achievement of self-awareness was treated as a malfunction to be fixed-a malfunction specifically caused by running too long, the usual cause of sentient holograms.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- Touched on in Season 4 with the Initiative's treatment of Oz the werewolf. They wanted to experiment on him despite the fact that he, unlike most of the demons and monsters they dealt with, had a legal existence as a person and a student.
- The robot thing comes up, weirdly, in Buffy, as well-there are three apparently-sentient androids in the series. The first is a serial killer they get rid of, but April-the-sexbot is treated as a mentally-disabled person unfairly created and discarded. The Buffybot has a long and storied career, and never achieves enough self-awareness to worry about her rights, but is definitely treated as capable of suffering. Not to mention the demon who was trapped in a book, accidentally scanned into the internet, and then had himself downloaded into a robot.
- The same topic arose on Angel with an organization that meets once a month to dine on werewolves—who are human 90% of the time and return to human form on death (which means they must be eaten alive)
- Subverted in True Blood where vampires have been legally declared citizens, more or less, in a not-even-remotely-veiled analog to the real-life homosexual rights movement ("God hates fangs").
- True Blood also demonstrates the flip-side of this trope; namely, vampires do not consider themselves as equal to humans, but rather superior. In addition, the human justice system is nowhere near equipped to deal with them, and vampires in the show kill with relative impunity. One even torpedoes the in-universe constitutional amendment to grant vampires equal rights to marry, own property, etc. by killing a reporter on live television because he doesn't want to be equal.
- By Season 5, the governor of the state of Louisiana has essentially invalidated the citizenship and rights of all vampires within the state: vampires seen outside their homes at night are breaking a curfew set for them, and subject to being shot on sight by SWAT teams and arrested (really sent to a special lab where experiments are done on them). The show never mentions how massively unconstitutional such actions would be.
- Near the finale, Bill is told he's not able to leave someone else his estate, because as a vampire Louisiana law considers him to have legally died after he was turned and thus it goes to his nearest living kin. It is mentioned that this law's being challenged in court, but it'll take years for them to rule either way on whether it's constitutional.
- Inverted and subverted on Babylon 5. A human is suing a Vree for damages resulting from the alleged kidnapping of his grandfather. The plaintiff claims to have found proof in Vree records, while the Vree enters his plea in a language nobody in the court understands forcing them to recess and find an interpreter. We never hear how it ends.
- Comes up in Farscape, unsurprisingly. "A Human Reaction" reveals that John thinks his alien shipmates would suffer from this sort of treatment if they ever made it back to Earth. Subverted when they do get back in "Terra Firma"; the aliens are treated like celebrities, put up in a beautiful mansion, provided with all the material goods they want... though they are still prisoners. Things may have gone differently if John's dad hadn't been part of the team that discovered Moya. It couldn't have hurt that the humanish-looking Sikozu made first contact and could speak English (and the terrifying Scorpius was not onboard).
- In Merlin (2008) "practicing sorcery" is a capital crime. However since people are born with sorcerous abilities and can use them instinctively without contemplated intent, it is tantamount to outlawing sneezing or having a patellar reflex, so humans with sorcerous abilities are treated pretty much like a criminal subspecies.
- An episode of Earth: Final Conflict revolves around a murder trial in which the defendant is a Taelon who kills a former soldier in what appears to be self-defense. The Taelons are determined to keep the trial as human as possible in order to show that they're willing to abide by human rules and even request that Zo'or be put on the jury as a "peer". In fact, Zo'or does everything he can to convince the jury that the defendant is guilty of murder, even though the hospital video is clearly showing the soldier pulling a gun on him. Technically, this is not allowed, as new evidence (e.g. that Taelons are Energy Beings and cannot be harmed by bullets) cannot be introduced while the jury is deliberating. Zo'or wants to get the other Taelon convicted and punished (preferably by execution) to further his political goals. Then Boone manages to convince the judge to overturn the verdict and let the defendant go. The Taelon ends up killing himself at Zo'or's orders.
- The Flash (2014) has this happen to the metahumans (who are technically just humans who've gained special abilities): when Barry & co. catch one who has broken the law, they simply lock them up in a secret makeshift prison without trial. This example is a lot more understandable than most, as the metahumans are far too dangerous for any normal prison and any attempt to put them on trial would only put innocent lives at risk. Later when the masquerade is lifted, they're sent to prison with special cells to confine them. No-one mentions that Barry & co could be prosecuted and/or sued for false imprisonment after it's revealed. Luckily, there is now a metahuman wing in Iron Heights so metahuman criminals can be judged with due process. General Eiling never faced any kind of legal penalties for his experiments on Metahuman Bette San Souci (nor for her murder) or the abduction of Martin Stein. He also repeatedly referred to Bette as " his asset" rather than as a person.
- While most of the monsters of the week on The X-Files could at least pass as human, "The Host" has this as a major roadblock — the Flukeman has been captured alive and does not appear to be human or even sapient, but Skinner still wants it given a psych evaluation so that they can figure out whether or not to prosecute it for the murder of several individuals. Of course, it then escapes in transport, so...
- Battlestar Galactica (2003): For understandable reasons, the survivors of the Cylon massacre of the Twelve Colonies aren't inclined to play nice with any captured Cylons, happily torturing and spacing them, and giving a crew member who pulled a Jack Ruby on the Number Eight that shot Adama 30 days in the brig for illegal discharge of a firearm. This rather pointedly motivates the Boomer carrying Helo's child to prove her HeelFace Turn very fast, which she does by foiling a second assassination attempt from one of Tom Zarek's followers.
- Dark Matter: Artificial humans have no rights by Galactic Authority law, so they can be freely tortured.
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- In the Forgotten Realms, Netheril was a very human-centric culture, respecting only dwarves and conceding that elves are, more or less, equal, even if somehow backward. They enslaved or slaughtered most others and when their spelljamming exploration began they started to vivisect anything they ran across. Naturally, soon the Netherese were treated much the same way as Illithids, and attempts of more sane mages to fix this reputation mostly failed. The net result was that with their ships attacked on sight Netheril has no trade partners and the defense grew so expensive that in a hundred years from the first lift-off they were forced to abandon space travel altogether, uber-wizards or not.
- In Eberron, it is mentioned that monster races rarely receive the full rights of the more humanoid races. This causes trouble in parts of Breland (especially Sharn), where if a gnoll kills someone, it's murder — but the opposite is not true. The question of warforged rights have been a knotty tangle in the Five Nations. Legally, all signatories to the treaties that ended the Last War have to recognize them as autonomous persons, but in practice Thrane is known for keeping warforged in indentured servitude and many people in other nations are strongly prejudiced against them. Karrnath, meanwhile, also keeps legions of intelligent undead in storage much like other nations packed away weapons and armor.
- Hunter: The Vigil:
- Comes up often, especially when dealing with government entities like Task Force VALKYRIE and the Vanguard Serial Crimes Unit. While VALKYRIE engages in wetwork, they usually do so only after assessing that the supernatural population in question is a threat. Likewise, VASCU, as a subset of the FBI, makes sure that slashers get processed through the system - though they have a Gauntanamo-like facility on US soil for those who are maximum risks (you try getting a Mask to face its day in court without a hideous body count).
- The antagonist faction of the mages in the same setting, the Seers of the Throne, tend to control mortal governments just as thoroughly as their own shadow governments and trend toward situations where this is an issue. Their precursors in the Old World of Darkness, the Technocracy, _were_ the government and were basically mired in these issues at any time that a supernatural being other than a tradition mage was involved (tradition mages, of course, were pretty much kill on sight if the technocrat in question could get away with it). Heck, back in the day, the Technocracy would regularly conduct pogroms — and they were explicitly called Pogroms — to rout out any group of supernaturals, mage or otherwise, who could threaten consensus. They've fallen out of favor, but they still have their advocates...
- How non-humans are treated in Rifts by the Coalition States. Mages have no rights at all (even if it's involuntary like a Mystic), psychics' are limited (second-class citizens who must be implanted with trackers), and Dog Boys have barely more than pets.
- In the Heroes Unlimited universe (including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness), technology has outpaced the law, and mutant humans and animals can be legally treated as property and experimented on without any rights of any kind. This isn't a conscious development; rather, it's because there's a dearth of test cases before the courts, and the biotech companies and government black projects don't let their property get that far. Known superheroes are largely exempt from this and treated as human beings, but developing a legal public identity can be a real trick if your creator has declared you a public menace. The sourcebook Mutants Underground goes into this in more detail.
- In Witch Girls Adventures, witches (as well as otherkin such as the Fae, Immortals, and Nightlings such as Vampires or Shape Shifters) are a separate species from humans (although they can interbreed, the traits appear to be recessive at least with Witches, which muddies the waters) which probably leads to how organizations such as Malleus Maleficarum treat them with an 'execute on sight' policy or how the Arbus Society views them as aliens from outer space who lack privacy rights.
- In Planescape, the ruling authorities of Sigil generally look down upon some human or demihuman adventurer treating the city like their own personal dungeon crawl, given all the "monstrous" citizens. After all, that goblin you just stabbed might be a respected member of a powerful faction, or at least pays his taxes. You're more likely to have your rights trampled for belonging to the wrong faction when the city guard passes on patrol. Outside Sigil, it all depends on the local climate.
- Metahumans and the Awakened in Shadowrun have had an uphill battle for civil rights that would have been a non-issue if they hadn't expressed. Most civilized countries have decided that they share the same rights as their non-magical, non-metahuman peers. The newest group to suffer like this are technomancers, outwardly normal people who can interact with the Matrix without technology and do things with code that leave the most elite hackers scratching their heads.
- Warhammer 40,000:
- Because Humans have been subjugated and treated horribly by aliens in the past, they had a policy which stated that hostile species be suppressed, though that was later bastardized to a general zero-tolerance policy. The anthropocentric Imperium of Man, as a rule of thumb, will work to actively work to exterminate aliens. As a few notable alien species have proven, if they may prove to be useful to the Imperium through any unique talents (like the Jokaero), then agents of the Imperium will try to subjugate and exploit them instead.
- In a few certain cases, the Imperium will have to practice Realpolitik if the only other options are poorer. The Tau, for example, have a growing empire in a region of space Humanity has dwindling resources and increasing enemies in, so they're letting the Tau defend that area while both sides are engaged in Cold War, trading territory and occasional blows. Other times, Humanity will reluctantly ally with the Eldar if a greater mutual threat presents itself.
- The Imperium also has a varying level of tolerance of Mutants that varies world-to-world, ranging from second-class citizens to "kill on sight". Any that tolerates the Mutants probably will use them as a source of disposable labor in harsh conditions and next to no pay. Humanity also tend to look down on Abhumans, but they tend to be lucky enough to run their own worlds (if they're smart enough to do so) and can serve in the military.
- Within the Tau empire, it's ultimately ambiguous if all citizens share the same rights, or if the Tau have greater rights than other species. On one hand, they have the highest general standard of living, but they're also maybe-controlled by the highest Caste of the Tau.
- In Base Raiders none of the assorted aliens, supernatural beings, or even humans from alternate universes scattered throughout the post-superhero world have human rights. Natural mutants (so long as they don't look too inhuman) are considered human though. And acquiring superpowers is a crime. All things considered, this tends to lead a lot of sophonts into organized crime, such as baseraiding.
- In Sid Meiers Alpha Centauri, it is against the "rules of war" to use nerve gas on your enemies; doing so will earn you the ire of all the other factions. But in the Alien Crossfire expansion, nobody bats an eyelash if you use the nerve gas on the Progenitor (non-human) factions (still, the Progenitor factions feel the same way toward humans, so this may explain things).
- The "rules of war" in SMAC are a mutually agreed upon set of regulations that can be disbanded by 67% majority vote. The Progenitors have never signed the treaty and therefore do not fall under its protection. Additionally, most CPU factions will push to remove the regulations if they ever think it will benefit them.
- Additionally, you can vote to initiate global warming/cooling in order to raise/lower the sea levels. Nobody bothers to ask if the Progenitors are ok with this.
- Furthermore, the progenitors state openly that their long-term goal is the extermination of mankind from Planet's surface. When they've flat-out told you beforehand that they're going to wipe you out anyway...
- The "rules of war" in SMAC are a mutually agreed upon set of regulations that can be disbanded by 67% majority vote. The Progenitors have never signed the treaty and therefore do not fall under its protection. Additionally, most CPU factions will push to remove the regulations if they ever think it will benefit them.
- Played for Laughs in Persona 4 during the ski trip in the Updated Re-release, where Naoto, of all people, justifies picking on Teddie by pointing out that, as a bear, he doesn't have human rights.
- In Stellaris, this is what combining Xenophobe and Egalitarian ethos leads to. Such a civilization grants all the rights of a modern democracy and great or utopian living standards to their own species, but any filthy xenos on planets they conquer are chased off, enslaved, targeted for genocide, or simply eaten.
- Zigzagged in Overwatch: because of the Omnic Crisis 30 years beforehand (and the terrorist attack by Null Sector 7 years previously), omnics are given no human rights in the UK. Omnics are frequent targets of the Los Muertos gang in Mexico. In Russia, a Second Omnic Crisis rages between the omnium and the Russian military. But in Numbani, humans and omnics coexist peacefully.
- The rights of non-humans are an important theme in Freefall, with a squid-like alien protagonist, an anthropomorphic, intelligent, genetically engineered wolf who is technically still property, and a host of apparently sentient robots struggling with or ignoring the three robotics laws. In one story arc, robots have been dismantled against their will by other robots. As Sam asks: is this a crime or simply overly aggressive recycling? (Cue the Ironic Echo two strips later.)
- In Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures, there are several races of people, some of which are about as tough as a normal human, and others which are extremely powerful and long-lived. When someone commits a crime against a member of another race, he's judged and sentenced by members of his own race, which may lead to a sentence of community service for a murder conviction in more extreme cases. This leads to a lot of vigilante justice in the form of "adventuring".
- The Nai'ka in This Is the Worst Idea You've Ever Had! are given animal rights instead of human rights. One of the main plotlines of Chapter Two demonstrates that if you were to kill a Nai'ka (which is a common occurrence, as their blood can act as a Fantastic Drug that can allow humans to use magic for a brief time), it would be considered animal abuse instead of homicide, and the police really won't treat the matter with any kind of respect, nor is it a priority of theirs. Made even worse by the fact that many Nai'ka are quite naive, and therefore easy to exploit. The spin-off comic Sin Pararse shows an even darker side to this trope with Rei, who was found in a brothel and was implied to have been a Sex Slave for nearly a decade.
- In The Adventures of Fox Tayle (an online story/book), Fox Tayle is a government experiment running from the FBI. At one point, when confronting a lone agent, he cites part of the Declaration of Independence, but is told that it doesn't apply to him because he's an animal.
- Some-what averted in The Salvation War, which mentions of the legal nightmare the "second life" humans pose on the issues of inheritance, payment, abortion, the death penalty, what one should do with dead criminals who were ordered to serve 100+ year sentences, and other such issues, but never are basic human rights questioned.
- The SCP Foundation takes the firm stance that their goal of containing the anomalous and upholding The Masquerade supersede the individual rights of any person. This means that any anomaly, regardless of how humanoid or sapient it might be, is to be imprisoned for life and experimented on as they deem necessary. They claim that doing so is a necessary part of preventing The End of the World as We Know It. Whether or not they're right is up to the writer, as well as the reader.
- Agent Bishop, from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, is head of the EPF, Earth Protection Force. This trope is his job. Consequently, he clashes with the turtles quite frequently and has tried to dissect them numerous times. Subverted in the rather maligned Fast Forward season. Bishop becomes the president, he makes Earth join an Alien UN-analogue and turns the Earth into a tolerant place respectful of non-humans. Being saved by an alien he was experimenting on changed his views.
- Optimus Prime has a very clear opinion on this, with his famous "Freedom is the right of all sentient beings." motto.
- Transformers Animated: Porter C. Powell has his own opinion, namely when asking exactly what the Headmaster is being charged with, one of his statements being "Assault? Since when does an alien robot have rights?" Later this gets turned around on him when he can't get anything done to them after Optimus Prime and Grimlock end up taking a device they really need ASAP and returning it unusable, as well as abusing him a bit (harmlessly, except to his suit) in the attempt to get it.
- The ghosts from Danny Phantom. Yes, they used to be human (some of them, anyway) but now they're dead, powerful and all obviously evil, so it's perfectly within human jurisdiction to experiment and destroy them without trial. No wonder Danny doesn't want his secret revealed.
- The rights of aliens (and presumably other non-humans) are actually clearly defined in the world of Ben 10: Ultimate Alien as the governments of the world are bound by galactic treaties that not only guarantee the civil rights of aliens on Earth but also protect the Earth from outright alien invasion and abuses. Granted, alien criminals still operate on Earth and one of them once "legally" bought the planet to terraform it, but Ben and the Plumbers take care of these threats and have them detained by the proper authorities to await trial and sentencing. When an illegal prison for aliens with "inhuman" conditions is found in one episode it shocks and dismays the heroes (most of whom are part alien themselves) and it's implied by one character that the violation of galactic treaties is going to have big consequences for Earth.
- The Gems of Steven Universe don't normally have to worry about their rights before Earth government's too much, as they have peaceful relations with the local government, rarely interfere with human affairs, are completely self-sustaining, and are far stronger than humans that might attempt to harm them. It is noted by Pearl in one episode however that she is neither a human nor a US citizen, and so she cannot acquire a driver's license. Greg's cousin Andy also assumes being aliens makes them illegal immigrants, though it's not clear if he's right (with the exception of Peridot, all the active gems have lived in modern US territory since thousands of years before the country was founded).
- This article discusses the issue of legal rights for aliens in some detail. Turns out it's really not that straightforward. Though the last paragraph is of note and simplifies things:
As a last resort (in my view the wiser course), Congress may decide to entirely junk the above anthropocentric pigeonholes [i.e. the bulk of the multi-page essay]. A new legal classification might be created — the "extraterrestrial person" or "pseudoperson" — which grants the ET a measure of rights and responsibilities in keeping with the basic principles of Metalaw. At long last, jus naturale, galactic conscience and universal equity may find a home in American jurisprudence.
- In most common law countries (essentially countries where English is the first language, and other former British colonies) corporations are given the same rights as "natural persons". American corporations even have free speech rights. In Great Britain, they can be tried for negligent homicide. Should we meet aliens tomorrow, the Supreme Court is very likely going to interpret "person" as "sapient creature".
- If Nix v. Hedden is any indication, the scientific designation means nothing to the U.S. Supreme Court. Nix v. Hedden deals with the legal classification of a plant (specifically, tomatoes) for tax purposes and was decided years before Plessey v. Ferguson (which allowed "separate but equal"). Those are 19th century cases. Brown v. Board of Education makes it pretty clear that race discrimination violates the US Constitution while Obergefell v. Hodges (gay marriage) reinforces an earlier Supreme Court ruling (Loving v. Virginia) about how marriage is a fundamental right.
- There is also an emerging body of law concerning the legal rights of animals.
- Some African nations, determined to protect their dwindling gorilla or chimp populations, have considered declaring the poaching of these animals as murder.
- In 1993 Richard Dawkins among others signed a petition for great apes to be declared persons, and a Brazilian court ruled they were. The issue is likely to come up again.
- India has declared dolphins as non-human persons; it's illegal to confine them or keep them in captivity, as well as other cetaceans.
- The United States Copyright Office has stated that supernatural beings cannot hold copyrights. If vampires are Real After All, this would be a very dangerous precedent for them. No doubt there would be much quibbling over what "supernatural" means. Law as written, must be "fruits of an intellectual labor" and human could be argued as a catch all should a Klingon want residuals for his Opera should said Opera be honestly created by an alien life form.
- In Canada, believe it or not, there is actual case law about this. In an Ontario Superior Court case named Joly v. Pelletier, Joly sued a wide variety of private, government, and foreign parties for discriminating against him on the grounds that he was a Martian. In an admirably deadpan decision, the judge ruled that, since only persons and corporations have standing to sue, and a person is "an individual human being," then, since Joly's whole argument was that he wasn't a human being, his suit had to fail. As a result, there is actual legal precedent that extraterrestrials have no standing to sue... at least in Ontario.
- Of course, in U.S. Law, you must have standing to go to trial. The courts won't rule on a hypothetical situation and since "human rights" covers all individuals known to the court system, no one has standing to challenge them as an alien from another world.
- Brazil, which has a big U.F.O culture, has declared that any extra terrestrials landing in Brazil would be given full human rights. This fact gets a bit jarring when we consider that Brazil doesn't have much of a human rights tradition...