Inhumanable Alien Rights

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Chekov: We do believe that all planets have a sovereign claim to inalienable human rights.
Azetbur: Inalien. If only you could hear yourselves. Human rights. Why the very name is racist. The Federation is no more than a Homo-sapiens-only 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 sentient 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) experiment.

The being has to run from the authorities as opposed to going to the courts 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.

Whether or not non-humans have any legal rights is something yet to be decided by any court. Technically, they have no legal rights, as laws are written to cover only known life forms. Thus, technically, "the pursuers" would not be risking their freedom. On the other hand, this does mean the alien/magical being has no legal obligation to not simply kill the nuisance, as said being committing a murder is not covered by law either. In fact, pretty much any entity that is required to obey the law, or which can be sued in tort for an offense against another, must first be acknowledged as a 'person' under that same body of law -- as only 'people' can be held liable for their own actions under either civil or criminal law. (Societies where slavery is legal tend to ignore this part by treating slaves as 'persons' when its necessary to prosecute them, but as chattel whenever its a question of whether or not they have rights. Or by noting that chattel can simply be punished or killed as you would a misbehaving animal, without needing any kind of judicial proceeding to make it 'legal' in the first place.)

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 presumable 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, and it's not like they're likely to be asking for any rights anyways).

It is worth noticing that 'people' have rights, not 'humans'. 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.

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.

The one time when this trope clearly applies is when the human in question can be argued to have significantly sub-normal intelligence. Examples would include embryos, young babies, terminal-comas, and exceptionally severe levels of mental illness/disability. In such circumstances the, "But they're as smart as we are, and thus should be our equals" reasoning breaks down completely. Babies are not as smart as we are, or even as smart as dogs are. Yet the babies get rights, and the dogs don't. While perfectly understandable from a social, religious, and evolutionary point of view, this is difficult to prove by the standards of evidence that a law court (or science) requires. In this way the trope is also linked to Animal Wrongs Group, who take the not entirely illogical stance that if a baby is sapient then so are furfarm mink and lab rats. "Well surely it isn't the other way round..."

Although it is instructive to note that babies receive their rights on the same basis that mentally incompetent people do -- they are required to have caretakers, are not allowed unsupervised freedom of movement or unsupervised living, and cannot enter into contracts without their caretakers' approval. Also, the 'babies vs. dogs' analogy fails to address the point that the impaired faculties of babies are a temporary condition. The child will eventually mature, while a dog will always remain only as smart as a dog.

Similarly, most stories tend to avoid the complexities of non-human children, or the other creature's point of view. A werewolf killing a baby is obviously evil! A human animal charity 'accidentally' killing a baby werewolf? I mean how could the charity have known? Whereas the werewolf/monster/alien must have known! Human babies are of course so obviously intelligent...

A subtrope of What Measure Is a Non-Human? and usually[1] You Fail Law Forever. Overlaps with They Would Cut You Up. Because of the above Fridge Logic this trope sits neatly between Animal Wrongs Group and Those Wacky Nazis. See also Zombie Advocate, when a character advocates for the rights of non-humans.

Examples of Inhumanable Alien Rights include:

Anime and Manga

Comic Books

  • The Civil War crossover between Young Avengers and Runaways mined this a lot: SHIELD "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.
    • Dispite K and Hulkling both being born in the US, making them US Citizens, but then again the Mad Scientist was clearly going rough.
    • They would have done to the rest what they did to Victor, but they were a Slave to PR: They didn't want to look bad by firing on children, but What Measure Is a Non-Human?...
  • Bar Sinister from Shaman's Tears where 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.

Fan Works

  • 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 canon Equestria has multiple sentient species other than ponies, most of which we have seen as Equestrian citizens and/or members of nations that Equestria has diplomatic relations with. So Equestrian law should already be entirely familiar with the concept of granting legal 'personhood' to sentient entities that are not ponies.
    • For that matter, Princess Celestia owns a magical artifact that allows for dimensional travel to and from Earth, which has been used repeatedly during the course of the series. While no human being is known to have used the artifact to travel to Equestria, Equestrian law should still already be familiar with the existence of humans.
      • In addition to the fact that at least two Equestrian citizens, Sunset Shimmer and Princess Twilight Sparkle, have actually become human beings, although admittedly that is only on the 'Earth' side of the mirror portal.
  • 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.

Films - Animated

  • Reversed in Planet 51, where the native military wants to dissect the human astronaut.

Films - Live-Action

  • 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.
  • Aquamarine
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
  • 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 of offal and cat food, 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.
    • The perfectly human Wikus provides a straighter example when a splash of Applied Phlebotinum triggers a gradual transformation into an alien, at first just his arm, at which point he is whisked away to a research facility where no one treats him as even remotely human, instead electrocuting him into operating alien weapons for them and discussing how they're going to harvest his organs right in front of him while he begs for mercy.
      • This is more a Corrupt Corporate Executive than the South African government.
      • The cover story used to detain Wikus is that he contracted an alien disease that jumped species and needs to be quarantined. The end of the movie states that when the truth of what actually happened was revealed to the public there was hell to pay.
  • Avatar: The only problem the humans (or at least the company and security leaders) had with killing the Na'vi was public relations. The Na'vi had no issues with killing humans either. It should be noted though that the humans were on the Na'vi planet, far away from any government controlled land so the law wouldn't touch them. And the Na'vi clearly aren't united or advanced enough to have 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, because sentient robots are clearly established as chattel in this universe and not persons) 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, with the murderer being the programmer and the robot being the murder weapon. Later on it turns out that Sonny did kill him (for good reasons), but can't be charged by that same definition.
    • Technically, this was suicide, as the person who programmed Sonny to kill Dr. Lanning was Dr. Lanning himself.
  • 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.


  • 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.)
  • Subverted in Terry Pratchett's The Fifth Elephant, in which 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 was 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 was fighting the story. So Pratchett was playing with how the story of Little Red Riding Hood is an example of this trope.
    • And of course there's 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.
    • 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 Vimes takes their side.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Subverted in Patricia Brigg's Mercedes 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.
  • The Golden Age robot, Adam Link.[context?]
  • 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.
    • In a rare subversion, this is also invoked to protect them at the end - as the quaddies are fleeing on a hijacked mobile space station the corporation's security chief refuses to obey orders and fire upon them, because while he could legally shoot fleeing space pirates just fine the quaddies are not legally people, therefore cannot be committing piracy. And exterminating the "post-fetal experimental tissue cultures" is, legally, disposing of bio-hazardous waste... which requires a lot of paperwork that the CEO of the corporation has failed to fill out, therefore his security chief must regrettably obey the law and not do it.
    • Later on in the timeline of the series the refugee quaddies have solved the problem by finding an uninhabited system, colonizing it, and then applying for diplomatic recognition as an independent star nation, which of course grants them the same legal status as any other people.
  • 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.

Live-Action Television

  • Roswell
  • Heroes
  • Kyle XY
  • 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 truly be said that it was a reunion??).
    • And in the canon Series Finale, which was before the reunion and was the intended ending, He's caught. WTF?
      • It was written as a season cliffhanger, and then the series got canceled.
  • In Stargate Atlantis, the Atlantis Expedition has allowed itself to perform war-crime experiments on some captured Wraith, because "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.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation explored this question, primarily with the android Data. In "Measure Of A Man," he is the subject of a hearing by the Judge Advocate General of Starfleet 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 disproved, just as it could not proven or disproved for humans and other organic sentients. Later episodes on the topic featured Data defending the right of other artificial sentients to live, and the question of Data's "daughter," Lal.
    • More than a little Anvilicious, given that Data already held the rank of Lieutenant Commander prior to this. It's rather implausible that Starfleet, or any military or quasi-military organization, would put someone/thing they considered "property" in a position to issue orders to those considered unambiguously to be "people".
      • Except that the whole point of Measure of Man was to redefine Data as property. The question just hasn't been raised in that context yet.
    • 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 of Voyager, 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. You have to wonder why someone didn't look through Starfleet's records and discover that an artificial being that has intelligence that can improve itself, have sex, and express itself artistically is a person, because Data was found to be so in the second season of The Next Generation.
    • Admittedly, ruling that the Doctor was a person would open the door to ruling the same for Mark I EMHs all over the Federation, who had by then been consigned to manual labor; meanwhile, there was only one Data. It gets even less justifiable when you consider that the Doctor is essentially a Projected Android.
      • Also, all other holograms. If the world recognizes the fact that the Doctor achieved full sentience after being left running for long enough, suddenly using a Projected Man the way all the TNG-era Treks do becomes the stem cell debate times a thousand. Using them as novel characters (let alone combat practice) would be right out. As such, Starfleet recognizing the Doctor as a person is never going to happen. Ever.
      • Interestingly, it does seem that your average Trek hologram can become sentient if you leave it running long enough and provide it with constant interpersonal stimuli: Just ask not only the Doctor, but the hologram Hirogen prey from "Flesh and Blood", the woman we thought was Dr. Zimmerman's daughter until Deanna found she couldn't read her, Vic Fontaine, Professor Moriarty, and on and on. Trek hologram use is serious Moral Dissonance. And, since A.I. Is a Crapshoot, it bites them in the hindparts enough that such use goes beyond Genre Blindness and into What an Idiot! territory.
        • Although, each of these holograms were special. There is a significant difference between a deliberately intelligent AI (In the case of Data, Fontaine, and some others), and a series of if-then statements for a combat training program that doesn't learn. That aside, the holodeck need not create a separate 'person' for each holo-character, and instead have a master AI controlling each character like puppets. Who knows, maybe the intelligent future ship AIs will enjoy playing on the holodeck as much as the organics.
    • Carried even further, the right to vote was mentioned inside the episode. 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 it's 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 a Pound of Flesh Twist, 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.
      • The arbiter doesn't actually say categorically that the Doctor is not a person, he says that he is not prepared to declare the Doctor a person at this time. He also says that he knows very well that this issue is going to warrant a lot of further investigation.
    • 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.
  • Touched on in Season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with the Initiative's treatment of Oz the werewolf. Despite being an official US government task force they still wanted to experiment on and vivisect him despite the fact that he, unlike most of the demons and monsters they dealt with, had an entirely legal and on-the-record existence as a US citizen.
    • 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.
  • Inverted and subverted on Babylon 5, where a gray alien gets sued for damages by a human because its ancestor had abducted and experimented on the plaintiff's ancestor. Thus, it's the human whose Inhumanable Alien Rights were disregarded, and the offender (or at least its grandchild) does get called out for it in court.
    • Hadn't realized a descendant can be sued for the actions of an ancestor. That's like bringing a German kid on war crime charges of his grandfather. On the other hand, this is a tort case, and, as such, fits more under the Frivolous Lawsuit category. It would speak very poorly of the Earth Alliance legal system if the judge did not decide in the Vree's favor. The ombudsman judging the case was visibly exasperated on hearing the charge, and we never see how it ends.
      • It's not that frivolous -- your estate is still liable for any tort damages your actions in life may have incurred, and the victim's heirs may likewise file suit to collect debts or damages owed to the estate they inherited. The reason the ombudsman is so visibly exasperated is that since each estate in question has gone through probate at least twice in-between the actual tort and the lawsuit, the paperwork is going to be exponentially complicated.

Tabletop RPG

  • In Forgotten Realms Netheril was 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 Netherese has no trade partners and the defence grew so expensive that in a hundred years from the first lift-off they were forced to abandon the space travel altogether, uber-wizards or not.
  • Comes up often in Hunter: The Vigil, especially when dealing with government entities like Task Force VALKYRIE and the Vanguard Serial Crimes Unit. While VALKYRIE engages in network, 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 Guantanamo-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).
  • Expressly addressed in the Champions Universe superhero RPG. The first time someone of 'possibly not a pesron' status was arrested and his legal status was cast into doubt, he hired the best lawyers he could and took it all the way to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court's decision was that while mutated humans, time travelers, aliens, etc., etc., could be construed as "persons" under current law, there was not sufficient justification for extending the provisions of existing law to magical creatures, mythological gods, or the undead.
    • Congress then responded by passing an amendment to the Equal Protection Clause of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, explicitly widening its scope to cover magical creatures, mythological gods, and the undead.

Video Games

  • In Sid Meier's 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 it's protection. Additionally, most CPU factions will push to remove the regulations if they ever think it will benefit them.
    • 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...

Web Comics

  • In Freefall the rights of non-humans are an important theme, 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). Also, does investigation of such incidents count as troubleshooting equipment or detective work?
  • 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".

Web Original

  • In the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, this issue has given rise to differing policies among earth's governments. Given the revelation that a city of civilized, urbane, sentient apes exists in Africa, and the fact that tens of thousands of extraterrestrials were stranded on earth after an invasion in 1985, most of the "First World" countries have declared such beings as "people", and thus grant them full "human" rights. Other governments (most notably the People's Republic of China, several of the more conservative Muslim countries, and (strangely) Finland) have adamantly refused to do the same. Sentient machines, meanwhile, do not legally enjoy any such rights anywhere in the world (though in practice, some countries, like the US and Great Britain, tend to grant such beings those rights anyway.)
  • 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.

Western Animation

  • 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.
  • In Transformers, Optimus Prime has a very clear opinion on this, with his famous "Freedom is the right of all sentient beings" motto.
    • 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 on 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.

Real Life

  • 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. Should we meet aliens tomorrow, the Supreme Court is very likely going to interpret "individual" or "person" just as "sapient creature."
    • Even "human being" might be interpreted as a member of the genus Homo, which would include (say) a Neanderthal.
  • There is also an emerging body of law concerning the legal rights of comparatively sapient animals, such as chimpanzees.
    • Some African nations, determined to protect their dwindling gorilla or chimp populations, have considered declaring the poaching of these animals to be homicide.
  • This article discusses the issue of legal rights for aliens in some detail. Turns out it's really not that straightforward.
    • That article is not exactly a rigorous legal analysis but more a philosophical speculation on the part of the author. Practically speaking, the instant we ask any alien visitor to Earth to obey the law, and/or attempt to punish them for any violations of that law, we have de facto acknowledged said alien visitor as a 'person' under the law. The defense of selective prosecution means that the law cannot fairly punish someone for an offense if the law would not protect them from an identical offense.
  1. Obviously, legal problems are easily fixed, but in fiction typically no one ever bothers to do it.