Human Rights

What are human rights?

According to the United Nations, human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination.

Why is it important to uphold human rights?

Human rights are extremely important to uphold as they ensure that all human beings are treated equally, with dignity, respect, and fairness. They also ensure that every individual’s legal rights are protected.

What are human rights violations?

Human rights violations are the denial of an individual’s most basic human rights, which equates to the denial of an individual’s fundamental moral entitlements. It is to treat them as if they are less than human and undeserving of respect and dignity. Examples range from genocide, torture, slavery, rape, enforced sterilisation or medical experimentation, and deliberate starvation, to detention without trial, restrictions on freedom of expression, identity-based discrimination, and denials of voting rights, the right to education, and the right to rest and leisure.

How do we protect human rights?

There are multiple ways to protect human rights. On an individual level, you can identify the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights that constitute human rights overall. You can learn about human rights, embrace the duty to protect them, participate in local human rights activism, report incidents of human rights violations, or work for a human rights organisation. At an organisational level, you can advocate for the protection of human rights, maintain extensive websites documenting violations and calling for remedial action, lead campaigns against human rights violations,

What is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a historic document that was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly at its third session on 10 December 1948 as Resolution 217 at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, France. Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration consists of 30 articles affirming an individual’s rights which, although not legally binding in themselves, have been elaborated in subsequent international treaties, economic transfers, regional human rights instruments, national constitutions, and other laws. The Declaration was the first step in the process of developing the International Bill of Human Rights, which was completed in 1966, and came into force in 1976, after a sufficient number of countries had ratified them.

The Declaration, commonly referred to as the international Magna Carta, extended the revolution in international law ushered in by the United Nations Charter – namely, that how a government treats its own citizens is now a matter of legitimate international concern, and not simply a domestic issue. It claims that all rights are interdependent and indivisible.

The Declaration has exerted a huge influence worldwide. Its principles have been incorporated into the constitutions of most of the more than 185 nations now in the UN. Although a declaration is not a legally binding document, the Universal Declaration has achieved the status of customary international law because people regard it ‘as a common standard of achievement for all people and all nations.’

With the goal of establishing mechanisms for enforcing the UDHR, the UN Commission on Human Rights proceeded to draft two treaties: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and its optional Protocol and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Together with the Universal Declaration, they are commonly referred to as the International Bill of Human Rights.

In addition to the covenants in the International Bill of Human Rights, the United Nations has adopted more than 20 principal treaties further elaborating human rights. These include conventions to prevent and prohibit specific abuses like torture and genocide and to protect especially vulnerable populations, such as refugees, women and children.

Respect for human rights, dignity and gender equality together with principles of freedom, democracy and diversity are also fundamental values of the European Union. The EU supports human rights through legislation and the European Commission, Parliament and Council have all adopted and agree to a Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which states that the EU is founded on the ‘universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity; it is based on the principles of democracy and the rule of law.’ Since 2009, the Charter has been legally binding on the EU institutions and national governments (when they are implementing EU law). The Charter is consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights (Smashing Times’ Women War and Peace Book).

Globally, the champions of human rights have most often been citizens. In particular, nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) have played a cardinal role in focusing the international community on human rights issues (Human Rights Library, University of Minnesota).

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