Human rights are commonly understood as “inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being.” Human rights are thus conceived as universal (applicable everywhere) and egalitarian (the same for everyone). These rights may exist as natural rights or as legal rights, in both national and international law. The doctrine of human rights in international practice, within international law, global and regional institutions, in the policies of states and in the activities of non-governmental organizations, has been a cornerstone of public policy around the world.
The idea of human rights states, “if the public discourse of peacetime global society can be said to have a common moral language, it is that of human rights.” Despite this, the strong claims made by the doctrine of human rights continue to provoke considerable skepticism and debates about the content, nature and justifications of human rights to this day. Indeed, the question of what is meant by a “right” is itself controversial and the subject of continued philosophical debate.
Many of the basic ideas that animated the human rights movement developed in the aftermath of the Second World War and the atrocities of The Holocaust, culminating in the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Paris by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. The ancient world did not possess the concept of universal human rights. Ancient societies had “elaborate systems of duties… conceptions of justice, political legitimacy, and human flourishing that sought to realize human dignity, flourishing, or well-being entirely independent of human rights”. The modern concept of human rights developed during the early Modern period, alongside the European secularization of Judeo-Christian ethics.
The true forerunner of human rights discourse was the concept of natural rights which appeared as part of the medieval Natural law tradition that became prominent during the Enlightenment with such philosophers as John Locke, Francis Hutcheson, and Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui, and featured prominently in the political discourse of the American Revolution and the French Revolution. From this foundation, the modern human rights arguments emerged over the latter half of the twentieth century. Gelling as social activism and political rhetoric in many nations put it high on the world agenda. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. ————————————————-
History of conceptThe modern sense of human rights can be traced to Renaissance Europe and the Protestant Reformation, alongside the disappearance of the feudal authoritarianism and religious conservativism that dominated the Middle Ages. Human rights were defined as a result of European scholars attempting to form a “secularized version of Judeo-Christian ethics”. Although ideas of rights and liberty have existed in some form for much of human history, they do not resemble the modern conception of human rights.
According to Jack Donnelly, in the ancient world, “traditional societies typically have had elaborate systems of duties… conceptions of justice, political legitimacy, and human flourishing that sought to realize human dignity, flourishing, or well-being entirely independent of human rights. These institutions and practices are alternative to, rather than different formulations of, human rights”. The most commonly held view is that concept of human rights evolved in the West, and that while earlier cultures had important ethical concepts, they generally lacked a concept of human rights.
For example, McIntyre argues there is no word for “right” in any language before 1400. Medieval charters of liberty such as the English Magna Carta were not charters of human rights, rather they were the foundation and constituted a form of limited political and legal agreement to address specific political circumstances, in the case of Magna Carta later being recognised in the course of early modern debates about rights. One of the oldest records of human rights is the statute of Kalisz (1264), giving privileges to the Jewish minority in the Kingdom of Poland such as protection from discrimination and hate speech. The basis of most modern legal interpretations of human rights can be traced back to recent European history. The Twelve Articles (1525) are considered to be the first record of human rights in Europe.
They were part of the peasants’ demands raised towards the Swabian League in the German Peasants’ War in Germany. The earliest conceptualization of human rights is credited to ideas about natural rights emanating from natural law. In particular, the issue of universal rights was introduced by the examination of the rights of indigenous peoples by Spanish clerics, such as Francisco de Vitoria and Bartolomé de Las Casas.
In the Valladolid debate, Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, who maintained an Aristotelian view of humanity as divided into classes of different worth, argued with Las Casas, who argued in favor of equal rights to freedom of slavery for all humans regardless of race or religion. In Britain in 1683, the English Bill of Rights (or “An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown”) and the Scottish Claim of Right each made illegal a range of oppressive governmental actions.
Two major revolutions occurred during the 18th century, in the United States (1776) and in France (1789), leading to the adoption of the United States Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen respectively, both of which established certain legal rights. Additionally, the Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776 encoded into law a number of fundamental civil rights and civil freedoms.
Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen approved by the National Assembly of France, August 26, 1789. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —United States Declaration of Independence, 1776
These were followed by developments in philosophy of human rights by philosophers such as Thomas Paine, John Stuart Mill and G.W.F. Hegel during the 18th and 19th centuries. The term human rights probably came into use some time between Paine’s The Rights of Man and William Lloyd Garrison’s 1831 writings in The Liberator, in which he stated that he was trying to enlist his readers in “the great cause of human rights”. In the 19th century, human rights became a central concern over the issue of slavery. A number of reformers, such as William Wilberforce in Britain, worked towards the abolition of slavery.
This was achieved in the British Empire by the Slave Trade Act 1807 and the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. In the United States, all the northern states had abolished the institution of slavery between 1777 and 1804, although southern states clung tightly to the “peculiar institution”. Conflict and debates over the expansion of slavery to new territories constituted one of the reasons for the southern states’ secession and the American Civil War.
During the reconstruction period immediately following the war, several amendments to the United States Constitution were made. These included the 13th amendment, banning slavery, the 14th amendment, assuring full citizenship and civil rights to all people born in the United States, and the 15th amendment, guaranteeing African Americans the right to vote. Many groups and movements have achieved profound social changes over the course of the 20th century in the name of human rights. In Europe and North America, labour unions brought about laws granting workers the right to strike, establishing minimum work conditions and forbidding or regulating child labor.
The women’s rights movement succeeded in gaining for many women the right to vote. National liberation movements in many countries succeeded in driving out colonial powers. One of the most influential was Mahatma Gandhi’s movement to free his native India from British rule.
Movements by long-oppressed racial and religious minorities succeeded in many parts of the world, among them the African American Civil Rights Movement, and more recent diverse identity politics movements, on behalf of women and minorities in the United States. The establishment of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the 1864 Lieber Code and the first of the Geneva Conventions in 1864 laid the foundations of International humanitarian law, to be further developed following the two World Wars.
The World Wars, and the huge losses of life and gross abuses of human rights that took place during them, were a driving force behind the development of modern human rights instruments. The League of Nations was established in 1919 at the negotiations over the Treaty of Versailles following the end of World War I.
The League’s goals included disarmament, preventing war through collective security, settling disputes between countries through negotiation and diplomacy, and improving global welfare. Enshrined in its charter was a mandate to promote many of the rights later included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At the 1945 Yalta Conference, the Allied Powers agreed to create a new body to supplant the League’s role; this was to be the United Nations.
The United Nations has played an important role in international human-rights law since its creation. Following the World Wars, the United Nations and its members developed much of the discourse and the bodies of law that now make up international humanitarian law and international human rights law. ————————————————-
PhilosophyThe philosophy of human rights attempts to examine the underlying basis of the concept of human rights and critically looks at its content and justification. Several theoretical approaches have been advanced to explain how and why human rights have become a part of social expectations.
One of the oldest Western philosophies of human rights is that they are a product of a natural law, stemming from different philosophical or religious grounds. Other theories hold that human rights codify moral behavior which is a human social product developed by a process of biological and social evolution (associated with Hume). Human rights are also described as a sociological pattern of rule setting (as in the sociological theory of law and the work of Weber).
These approaches include the notion that individuals in a society accept rules from legitimate authority in exchange for security and economic advantage (as in Rawls) – a social contract. The two theories that dominate contemporary human rights discussion are the interest theory and the will theory. Interest theory argues that the principal function of human rights is to protect and promote certain essential human interests, while will theory attempts to establish the validity of human rights based on the unique human capacity for freedom. Non-governmental Organizations
International non-governmental human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Service for Human Rights and FIDH monitor what they see as human rights issues around the world and promote their views on the subject. Human rights organizations have been said to “”translate complex international issues into activities to be undertaken by concerned citizens in their own community” Human rights organizations frequently engage in lobbying and advocacy in an effort to convince the United Nations, supranational bodies and national governments to adopt their policies on human rights.
Many human-rights organizations have observer status at the various UN bodies tasked with protecting human rights. A new (in 2009) nongovernmental human-rights conference is the Oslo Freedom Forum, a gathering described by The Economist as “on its way to becoming a human-rights equivalent of the Davos economic forum.”
The same article noted that human-rights advocates are more and more divided amongst themselves over how violations of human rights are to be defined, notably as regards the Middle East. There is criticism of human-rights organisations who use their status but allegedly move away from their stated goals. For example, Gerald M. Steinberg, an Israel-based academic, maintains that NGOs take advantage of a “halo effect” and are “given the status of impartial moral watchdogs” by governments and the media. Such critics claim that this may be seen at various governmental levels, including when human-rights groups testify before investigation committees. Human rights defenders
Main article: Human rights defender A human rights defender is someone who, individually or with others, acts to promote or protect human rights. Human rights defenders are those men and women who act peacefully for the promotion and protection of those rights. Corporations
Multinational companies play an increasingly large role in the world, and have been responsible for numerous human rights abuses. Although the legal and moral environment surrounding the actions of governments is reasonably well developed, that surrounding multinational companies is both controversial and ill-defined. Multinational companies’ primary responsibility is to their shareholders, not to those affected by their actions.
Such companies may be larger than the economies of some of the states within which they operate, and can wield significant economic and political power. No international treaties exist to specifically cover the behavior of companies with regard to human rights, and national legislation is very variable.
Jean Ziegler, Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights on the right to food stated in a report in 2003: [T]he growing power of transnational corporations and their extension of power through privatization, deregulation and the rolling back of the State also mean that it is now time to develop binding legal norms that hold corporations to human rights standards and circumscribe potential abuses of their position of power. —Jean Ziegler
In August 2003 the Human Rights Commission’s Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights produced draft Norms on the responsibilities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises with regard to human rights. These were considered by the Human Rights Commission in 2004, but have no binding status on corporations and are not monitored. Human rights violations
Human rights violations occur when actions by state (or non-state) actors abuse, ignore, or deny basic human rights (including civil, political, cultural, social, and economic rights). Furthermore, violations of human rights can occur when any state or non-state actor breaches any part of the UDHR treaty or other international human rights or humanitarian law. In regard to human rights violations of United Nations laws, Article 39 of the United Nations Charterdesignates the UN Security Council (or an appointed authority) as the only tribunal that may determine UN human rights violations.
Human rights abuses are monitored by United Nations committees, national institutions and governments and by many independent non-governmental organizations, such as Amnesty International, International Federation of Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, World Organisation Against Torture, Freedom House, International Freedom of Expression Exchange and Anti-Slavery International.
These organisations collect evidence and documentation of alleged human rights abuses and apply pressure to enforce human rights laws. Wars of aggression, war crimes and crimes against humanity, including genocide, are breaches of International humanitarian law and represent the most serious of human rights violations. In efforts to eliminate violations of human rights, building awareness and protesting inhumane treatment has often led to calls for action and sometimes improved conditions. The UN Security Council has interceded with peace keeping forces, and other states and treaties (NATO) have intervened in situations to protect human rights. Substantive rights
Right to life
Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life. —Article 6.1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights The right to life is the essential right that a human being has the right not to be killed by another human being. The concept of a right to life is central to debates on the issues of abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, self defense andwar. According to many human rights activists, the death penalty violates this right. The United Nations has called on states retaining the death penalty to establish a moratorium on capital punishment with a view to its abolition. States which do not do so face considerable moral and political pressure. Freedom from torture
Throughout history, torture has been used as a method of political re-education, interrogation, punishment, and coercion. In addition to state-sponsored torture, individuals or groups may be motivated to inflict torture on others for similar reasons to those of a state; however, the motive for torture can also be for the sadistic gratification of the torturer, as in the Moors murders. Torture is prohibited under international law and the domestic laws of most countries in the 21st century. It is considered to be a violation of human rights, and is declared to be unacceptable by Article 5 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Signatories of the Third Geneva Convention and Fourth Geneva Convention officially agree not to torture prisoners in armed conflicts.
Torture is also prohibited by the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which has been ratified by 147 states. National and international legal prohibitions on torture derive from a consensus that torture and similar ill-treatment are immoral, as well as impractical. Despite these international conventions, organizations that monitor abuses of human rights (e.g. Amnesty International, the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims) report widespread use condoned by states in many regions of the world. Amnesty International estimates that at least 81 world governments currently practice torture, some of them openly. Freedom from slavery
Main article: slavery
Freedom from slavery is an internationally recognized human right. Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms. Despite this, the number of slaves today is higher than at any point in history, remaining as high as 12 million to 27 million, Most are debt slaves, largely in South Asia, who are under debt bondage incurred by lenders, sometimes even for generations.
Human trafficking is primarily for prostituting women and children into sex industries. Groups such as the American Anti-Slavery Group, Anti-Slavery International, Free the Slaves, the Anti-Slavery Society, and the Norwegian Anti-Slavery Society continue to campaign to rid the world of slavery. Right to a fair trial
Main article: Right to a fair trialEveryone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him. The right to a fair trial has been defined in numerous regional and international human rights instruments. It is one of the most extensive human rights and all international human rights instruments enshrine it in more than one article.
The right to a fair trial is one of the most litigated human rights and substantial case law has been established on the interpretation of this human right. Despite variations in wording and placement of the various fair trial rights, international human rights instrument define the right to a fair trial in broadly the same terms. The aim of the right is to ensure the proper administration of justice. As a minimum the right to fair trial includes the following fair trial rights in civil and criminal proceedings: the right to be heard by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal the right to a public hearing
the right to be heard within a reasonable timethe right to counselthe right to interpretationFreedom of speechMain article: Freedom of speechFreedom of speech is the freedom to speak freely without censorship. The termfreedom of expression is sometimes used synonymously, but includes any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used. In practice, the right to freedom of speech is not absolute in any country and the right is commonly subject to limitations, such as on libel, slander, obscenity, incitement to commit a crime, etc.
The right to freedom of expression is recognized as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 19 of the ICCPR states that “[e]veryone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”. Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
Main articles: Freedom of thought, Conscience, and Freedom of religion Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
—Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Freedom of thought, conscience and religion are closely related rights that protect the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to think and freely hold conscientious beliefs and to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance; the concept is generally recognized also to include the freedom to change religion or not to follow any religion. The freedom to leave or discontinue membership in a religion or religious group—in religious terms called “apostasy”—is also a fundamental part of religious freedom, covered by Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Human rights groups such as Amnesty International organises campaigns to protect those arrested and or incarcerated as a prisoner of conscience because of their conscientious beliefs, particularly concerning intellectual, political and artistic freedom of expression and association. In legislation, a conscience clause is a provision in a statute that excuses a health professional from complying with the law (for example legalising surgical or pharmaceutical abortion) if it is incompatible with religious or conscientious beliefs. Rights debates
Events and new possibilities can affect existing rights or require new ones. Advances of technology, medicine, and philosophy constantly challenge the status quo of human rights thinking. Future generations
In 1997 UNESCO adopted the Declaration on the Responsibilities of the Present Generation Towards the Future Generation. The Declaration opens with the words: Mindful of the will of the peoples, set out solemnly in the Charter of the United Nations, to ‘save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’ and to safeguard the values and principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and all other relevant instruments of international law.
—Declaration on the Responsibilities of the Present Generation Towards the Future Generation Article 1 of the declaration states “the present generations have the responsibility of ensuring that the needs and interests of present and future generations are fully safeguarded.” The preamble to the declaration states that “at this point in history, the very existence of humankind and its environment are threatened” and the declaration covers a variety of issues including protection of the environment, the human genome, biodiversity, cultural heritage, peace, development, and education.
The preamble recalls that the responsibilities of the present generations towards future generations has been referred to in various international instruments, including the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (UNESCO 1972), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (UN Conference on Environment and Development, 1992), the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (World Conference on Human Rights, 1993) and a number of UN General Assembly resolutions relating to the protection of the global climate for present and future generations adopted since 1990. Sexual orientation and gender identity
See also: LGBT rights by country or territorySexual orientation and gender identity rights relate to the expression of sexual orientation and gender identity based on the right to respect for private life and the right not to be discriminated against on the ground of “other status” as defined in various human rights conventions, such as article 17 and 26 in the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and article 8 and article 14 in the European Convention on Human Rights.
Through the way many because of their religious beliefs claim that they support human rights in general while denying that LGBT rights are human rights, LGBT rights stand prominent in the very defense of the universal principle of the human rights. If human rights are understood in a way that makes it possible to exclude the basic rights of certain groups only because of certain religious and cultural prejudices, we find that the principle of universality is taken right out of the human rights, and human rights are transformed to a set of rules only reflecting certain historically values.
Homosexuality is illegal in 76 countries, and is punishable by execution in seven countries. The criminalization of private, consensual, adult sexual relations, especially in countries where corporal or capital punishment is involved, is one of the primary concerns of LGBT human rights advocates.
Other issues include: government recognition of same-sex relationships, LGBT adoption, sexual orientation and military service, immigration equality, anti-discrimination laws, hate crime laws regarding violence against LGBT people,sodomy laws, anti-lesbianism laws, and equal age of consent for same-sex activity. A global charter for sexual orientation and gender identity rights has been proposed in the form of the ‘Yogyakarta Principles’, a set of 29 principles whose authors say they apply International Human Rights Law statutes and precedent to situations relevant to LGBT people’s experience.
The principles were presented at a United Nations event in New York on November 7, 2007, co-sponsored by Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. The principles have been acknowledged with influencing the French proposed UN declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity, which focuses on ending violence, criminalization and capital punishment and does not include dialogue about same-sex marriage or right to start a family. The proposal was supported by 67 of the then 192 member countries of the United Nations, including all EU member states and the United States. An alternative statement opposing the proposal was initiated by Syria and signed by 57 member nations, including all 27 nations of the Arab League as well as Iran and North Korea. Trade
Although both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights emphasize the importance of a right to work, neither of these documents explicitly mention trade as a mechanism for ensuring this fundamental right. And yet trade plays a key role in providing jobs. Some experts argue that trade is inherent to human nature and that when governments inhibit international trade they directly inhibit the right to work and the other indirect benefits, like the right to education, that increased work and investment help accrue. Others have argued that the ability to trade does not affect everyone equally—often groups like the rural poor, indigenous groups and women are less likely to access the benefits of increased trade.
On the other hand, others think that it is no longer primarily individuals but companies that trade, and therefore it cannot be guaranteed as a human right. Additionally, trying to fit too many concepts under the umbrella of what qualifies as a human right has the potential to dilute their importance. Finally, it is difficult to define a right to trade as either “fair” or “just” in that the current trade regime produces winners and losers but its reform is likely to produce (different) winners and losers. See also: The Recognition of Labour Standards within the World Trade Organisation and Investor state dispute settlement Water
See also: Water politics and Right to waterIn November 2002, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights issued a non-binding comment affirming that access to water was a human right: the human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights. —United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights This principle was reaffirmed at the 3rd and 4th World Water Councils in 2003 and 2006.
This marks a departure from the conclusions of the 2nd World Water Forum in The Hague in 2000, which stated that water was a commodity to be bought and sold, not a right. There are calls from many NGOs and politicians to enshrine access to water as a binding human right, and not as a commodity. According to the United Nations, nearly 900 million people lack access to clean water and more than 2.