Michael Ignatieff on the range of moral responsibility

Michael Ignatieff observes in The Warrior's Honor (1998) that we have a range of moral obligations. They're strongest to those closest to us.

In practice, the claims of ethical universalism came to be strongly limited in Christian teaching and then in European natural law by the injunction that a rich man had a merely voluntary [and thus weaker] charitable obligation to strangers in need. In more general terms, a descending order of moral impingement came into place: the claims of kith and kin first, then neighbors, co-religionists, co-citizens, and only at the very end, the indeterminate stranger. To this day, the claim of the stranger - the victim on the TV screen - is the furthest planet in the solar system of our moral obligations.

That isn't to say that our obligations to the stranger are non-existent (which is why we have foreign aid, for example), just that they're much weaker.

This is what we mean by human rights - the rights that you have when everything else that would protect you (your family, friends, community) is stripped away.