Human Rights What Are Human Rights?28 October 2020 Alamgir Mohiuddin
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.
International Human Rights Law
International human rights law lays down the obligations of Governments to act in certain ways or to refrain from certain acts, in order to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups.
One of the great achievements of the United Nations is the creation of a comprehensive body of human rights law—a universal and internationally protected code to which all nations can subscribe and all people aspire. The United Nations has defined a broad range of internationally accepted rights, including civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. It has also established mechanisms to promote and protect these rights and to assist states in carrying out their responsibilities.
The foundations of this body of law are the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the General Assembly in 1945 and 1948, respectively. Since then, the United Nations has gradually expanded human rights law to encompass specific standards for women, children, persons with disabilities, minorities and other vulnerable groups, who now possess rights that protect them from discrimination that had long been common in many societies.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights. Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 by General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations. It sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected. Since its adoption in 1948, the UDHR has been translated into more than 500 languages - the most translated document in the world - and has inspired the constitutions of many newly independent States and many new democracies. The UDHR, together with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its two Optional Protocols (on the complaints procedure and on the death penalty) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and its Optional Protocol, form the so-called International Bill of Human Rights.
Economic, social and cultural rights
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights entered into force in 1976. The human rights that the Covenant seeks to promote and protect include: the right to work in just and favourable conditions; the right to social protection, to an adequate standard of living and to the highest attainable standards of physical and mental well-being; the right to education and the enjoyment of benefits of cultural freedom and scientific progress.
Civil and political rights
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its First Optional Protocol entered into force in 1976. The Second Optional Protocol was adopted in 1989.
The Covenant deals with such rights as freedom of movement; equality before the law; the right to a fair trial and presumption of innocence; freedom of thought, conscience and religion; freedom of opinion and expression; peaceful assembly; freedom of association; participation in public affairs and elections; and protection of minority rights. It prohibits arbitrary deprivation of life; torture, cruel or degrading treatment or punishment; slavery and forced labour; arbitrary arrest or detention; arbitrary interference with privacy; war propaganda; discrimination; and advocacy of racial or religious hatred.
Human Rights Conventions
A series of international human rights treaties and other instruments adopted since 1945 have expanded the body of international human rights law. They include the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006), among others.
Human Rights Council
The Human Rights Council, established on 15 March 2006 by the General Assembly and reporting directly to it, replaced the 60-year-old UN Commission on Human Rights as the key UN intergovernmental body responsible for human rights. The Council is made up of 47 State representatives and is tasked with strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe by addressing situations of human rights violations and making recommendations on them, including responding to human rights emergencies.
The most innovative feature of the Human Rights Council is the Universal Periodic Review. This unique mechanism involves a review of the human rights records of all 192 UN member states once every four years. The Review is a cooperative, state-driven process, under the auspices of the Council, which provides the opportunity for each state to present measures taken and challenges to be met to improve the human rights situation in their country and to meet their international obligations. The Review is designed to ensure universality and equality of treatment for every country.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights exercises principal responsibility for UN human rights activities. The High Commissioner is mandated to respond to serious violations of human rights and to undertake preventive action.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is the focal point for United Nations human rights activities. It serves as the secretariat for the Human Rights Council, the treaty bodies (expert committees that monitor treaty compliance) and other UN human rights organs. It also undertakes human rights field activities.
Most of the core human rights treaties have an oversight body which is responsible for reviewing the implementation of that treaty by the countries that have ratified it. Individuals, whose rights have been violated can file complaints directly to Committees overseeing human rights treaties.
Human Rights and the UN System
Human rights is a cross-cutting theme in all UN policies and programmes in the key areas of peace and security, development, humanitarian assistance, and economic and social affairs. As a result, virtually every UN body and specialized agency is involved to some degree in the protection of human rights. Some examples are the right to development, which is at the core of the Sustainable Development Goals; the right to food, championed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, labour rights, defined and protected by the International Labour Organization, gender equality, which is promulgated by UN Women, the rights of children, indigenous peoples, and disabled persons. Human rights day is observed every year on 10 December.
A summary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
11th June 2007 • By Eileen Byrnes and Ismael Hayden
On the 10th of December 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). It was the first time in history that a document with universal value (it refers to “all members of the human family,” which means all of us) was adopted by an international organisation.
The drafting commission was a suitably diverse bunch, with Eleanor Roosevelt (wife of US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt) chairing, and various members from countries such as Lebanon, China, France, Chile and the Philippines, to mention a few.
UDHR Preamble The UDHR begins with a preamble. Think of a preamble in terms of a book’s introduction: it explains the Declaration and sets out its underlying values. Rene Cassin, the French member of the drafting commission, compared the Preamble to the steps leading up to a house. It is a vital part of the UDHR because it places it within a historical context, and explains what it meant to the 48 countries that ratified the document back in 1948 (the UN had 58 members at the time).
Below is the Preamble in full: Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,
Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,
Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,
Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in cooperation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,
Whereas common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realisation of this pledge,
Now, therefore, THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims this UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedomsand by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The UDHR contains 30 articles, and covers the most fundamental rights and freedoms of people (collectively and individually) everywhere in the world. The articles can be divided into 6 groups. The Preamble, remember, is like the steps leading to a house.
Articles 1 and 2 are the foundation blocks on which the UDHR is built. They reaffirm human dignity, equality and brotherhood.
Articles 3-11 are the house’s first column. They are the rights of the individual: the right to life, outlawing of slavery or torture, equality before the law, the right to a fair trial etc.
Articles 12-17 are the second column. These are the rights of individuals within civil and political society. They include freedom of movement, the right to a nationality, the right to marry and found a family, as well as the right to own property.
Articles 18-21 are column number three. They are the spiritual and religious rights of individuals, such as freedom of thought and conscience (i.e. religion), the right to your own opinion, the right to peaceful assembly and association, and the right to vote and take part in government.
Articles 22-27 are the final column to the UDHR house. They are the social, economic and cultural rights of the individual. They include the right to work, the right to rest and leisure, the right to a decent standard of living, and the right to education.
The final three articles, 28-30, are the pediment that binds these four columns together. They remind us that rights come with obligations, and that none of the rights mentioned in the UDHR can be used to violate the spirit of the United Nations(Remember: the Preamble, or steps to the house, establishes this spirit).
Contents: Human Rights Step 1, Step 2 ,Step 3 , Key Human Rights documents A summary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Case Studies Learning Activities
Alamgir Mohiuddin: Editor of Bengali daily Naya Diganta, is one among the few journalists in Bangladesh who trod every branch of newspaper publishing. He worked in the BSS, Morning News and Bangladesh Times. He was Editor of Bangladesh Times and The New Nation. He worked for 15 years for the American News Agency, United Press International (UPI) before he joined The New Nation.
Alamgir Mohiuddin visited most of European, some African. American and Asian countries in his long journalistic career, meeting many great personalities. He joined a year-long course, organized by Paris-based journalist en Europe. He was the first from Bangladesh to join this prestigious course. He fondly recalls his interviews with German Chancellor Willy Brandt, Spanish Premier Soares, Imam Khomeini among others. He was the first Asian journalist to interview Brandt on his famous Brandt Commission Report. During the early days of his career, he trekked with Acharya Vinova Bhabe, who passed through the then East Pakistan on foot.)