One can be against the worst abuses—torture, summary execution or imprisonment, religious or racial persecution, censorship of political criticism—for various reasons: Their wrongness is morally overdetermined. But what does it mean to object to these common horrors as violations of universal human rights? I believe it has two implications. First, it means that these are forms of treatment to which no one should be subjected—that every person, everywhere, is wronged if maltreated in these ways. Second, that the wrongness is not a function of the balance of costs and benefits in this case—that while in some cases a right may justifiably be overridden by a sufficiently high threshold of costs, below that threshold its status as a right is insensitive to differences in the cost-benefit balance of respecting it in each particular case. Rights are universal protections of every individual against being justifiably used or sacrificed in certain ways for purposes worthy or unworthy.

(Thomas Nagel, “Personal Rights and Public Space,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 24 [spring 1995]: 83-107, at 84-5)