Every citizen belonging to their respective countries enjoy some rights that
protect their virtues, under support of law, like the Fundamental Rights enjoyed
by every citizen of India. Similar to this, and on a much larger scale, human
beings all over the world are entitled to some basic rights and freedoms,
lasting from birth to death, irrespective of any conditions of class, creed,
gender, social/economic position, place of birth.
These rights are independent from legal boundaries of the countries and are
applicable on the shared values of independence, equality and respect deserved
by every human being. Human rights are protected under an exclusive set of laws
which cannot be denied to any human being. However, in exceptional
circumstances, restrictions of these rights can be made functional.
To understand this vast concept henceforth, various theories on human rights
come to view. These theories provide and discuss the various perspectives
attached to the concept, utility and application of human rights all over the
Definition Of Human Rights As Per 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."
What are Human Rights?
Every person has dignity and value. One of the ways that we recognise the
fundamental worth of every person is by acknowledging and respecting their human
Human rights are a set of principles concerned with equality and fairness. They
recognise our freedom to make choices about our lives and to develop our
potential as human beings. They are about living a life free from fear,
harassment or discrimination.
Human rights can broadly be defined as a number of basic rights that people from
around the world have agreed are essential. These include the right to life, the
right to a fair trial, freedom from torture and other cruel and inhuman
treatment, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the rights to health,
education and an adequate standard of living.
These human rights are the same for all people everywhere – men and women, young
and old, rich and poor, regardless of our background, where we live, what we
think or what we believe. This is what makes human rights 'universal'.
Why are Human Rights important?
Human rights are important because no one should be abused or discriminated
against, and because everyone should have the chance to develop their talents.
Unfortunately, many people around the world don't have these basic rights and
freedoms. As the most developed country on Earth, the United States has the most
influence on the world's governments and its people.
That's why it is important that our government does all it can to protect human
rights in America and abroad. What Can You Do to Stand Up for Human Rights? If
you really want to help protect human rights, it's important to do your part.
Here are a few things you can do to help. Decide what human rights are important
to you. Start a dialogue with friends and family.
Historical development of human rights
The history of human rights covers thousands of years and draws upon religious,
cultural, philosophical and legal developments throughout the recorded history.
It seems that the concept of human rights is as old as the civilization. This is
evident from the fact that almost at all stages of mankind there have been a
human rights documents in one form or the other in existence. Several ancient
documents and later religious and philosophies included a variety of concepts
that may be considered to be human rights.
Notable among such documents are the Edicts of Ashoka issued by Ashoka the Great
of India between 272-231 BC and the Constitution of Medina of 622 AD, drafted by
Muhammad to mark a formal agreement between all of the significant tribes and
families of Yathrib (later known as Medina).
However, the idea for the protection of human rights grew after the tragic
experiences of the two world wars. Prior to the world war, there was not much
codification done either at the national or the international levels for the
protection and implementation of human rights.
This paper seeks to analyse the concept and approaches of human rights and its
development even before the Greek times. In this regard, the period has been
classified as pre world wars and post war eras. The latter has been further
divided into normative foundation, institution building and stage of
implementation. Several important documents like Magna Carta, French Declaration
of the Rights of Man, UDHR, ICCPR etc. and a brief discussion of various
approaches to human rights have been mentioned.
Evolution of Human Rights
The precise moment when the concept of Human Rights emerged is hard to pinpoint.
Many cultures and traditional societies have believed in the worth every
individual possesses as a human. Nevertheless, it was in early modern Europe
when the idea of Human rights can be said to emerge in the form of "Natural
The philosophers like John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Hugo Grotius etc declared some
rights as natural in the sense that they were fundamental to human beings and
are the very core of human nature. However, few early contributions are
considered important and seen as landmarks that led to the beginning of the
fairly new concept of human rights.
Some of the major historical contributions include the Magna Carta of 1215, the
Bill of Rights of 1688, the US Declaration of Independence of 1776, and the
Rights of Man and the Citizen, 1789 France. These centuries witnessed the growth
of humanitarian ethics and there were gradual attempts to introduce rights.
For instance, the Congress of Vienna of 1815 tried to promote the abolishment of
the slave trade which was eventually achieved by the Brussels Convention of
1890. Even when most of the contributions were championed by states for their
own country and their own people, they laid the thrust of the language of
Nevertheless, it was with the end of the two brutal world wars that the
popularity of Universal Human Rights gathered momentum. In 1948, the United
Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in its general
assembly. In 1966, two major human rights documents were adopted, namely the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International
Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, both of which came into force
Karel Vasak, a distinguished and very well-known human rights scholar,
introduced the idea of three generations of human rights, which allows us to
understand the types and evolution of human rights better. The first generation
of human rights is civil and political rights. The second generation of human
rights includes economic, social and cultural rights and the third generation of
human rights are called solidarity rights.
The first generation rights i.e., civil and political rights are the initial
form of natural rights. These rights developed during the English Revolution of
the 17th century and the French and American Revolution of the 18th century. The
key theme underlying these rights is liberty. The first generation rights
include the right to life, the right to liberty, and the right to property and
have expanded to include non-discrimination, freedom from arbitrary arrest,
freedom of thought, freedom of religion, freedom of movement etc.
These rights are often seen as a manifestation of negative rights since they can
be enjoyed only when there is a restriction upon others. The key documents to
understand the content of the first generation of human rights are Article 3 to
Article 21 of the UN Declaration and the International Covenant of Civil and
Political Rights of 1966 which came into force in 1976.
In the twentieth century, especially post World War II, second-generation rights
began to earn a greater prominence. The economy of countries was torn by war and
there was massive destruction as a result of the world wars. Therefore, the
effort for economic, social and cultural rights developed during the twentieth
century. The rights rely on socialist assumptions and the underlying theme is
equality which is in contrast to first-generation rights and the notion of
The second-generation rights include the right to work, the right to health
care, the right to education, the right to social security etc. Therefore, these
rights are seen as a manifestation of positive rights as they place a claim on
the state and a duty to oblige for action, for example, welfare provisions. The
key documents to understand the content of second-generation rights are Article
22 to Article 27 of the UN Declaration and the International Covenant of
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966.
The third generation of rights emerged post-1945 and are referred to as
solidarity rights. This is for the simple reason that these rights are concerned
with social groups and society on the whole rather than an individual. They are
therefore seen as collective rights. The underlying theme of the
third-generation rights is fraternity. Usually, these rights are shaped by the
difficulties faced by the countries of the Global South.
These rights include the right to development, the right to environmental
protection, the right to self-determination, the right to peace etc. The
Stockholm Convention of Human Environment of 1972 and the Earth Summit of 1992
at Rio can be analysed to understand these rights.
International Conventions On Human Rights
The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial
The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial
Discrimination was adopted by the UNGA in December, 1965. Switzerland consented
to the Convention in November, 1994.
The CERD obliges State parties to pursue by all appropriate means a policy of
eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms and promoting understanding
among all races, refrain from all acts and practices of racial discrimination
and prohibit and prosecute such acts.
The Convention defines racial discrimination and lists civil, political,
economic, social and cultural human rights whose enjoyment must be guaranteed to
everyone without distinction as to race. It also contains the basic right to
effective judicial complaint procedures in the case of all acts of racial
The Convention was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 21 December 1965 and
came into force on 4 January 1969. Switzerland ratified the Convention on 29
November 1994, where it came into force exactly one month later.
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights contains important
guarantees for the protection of civil and political rights. It was adopted by
the UN General Assembly on 16 December, 1966. Switzerland acceded to the
Convention on 18 June, 1992.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) guarantees
traditional civil rights and freedoms. Together with the International Covenant
on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), it enacts in a binding
framework the rights set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in
The ICCPR includes inter alia the following human rights:
- Protection of physical integrity Right to life, prohibition of torture,
prohibition of genocide.
- Prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, gender,
language, religion, political position, fortune, origins, etc.
- Prohibition of slavery and forced labour, arbitrary detention,
protection of the dignity of people deprived of their liberty.
- Procedural rights
- Freedom of thought, religion, movement and freedom of assembly.
- Political rights Right to vote and stand for election, equal access to
The ICCPR was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 16 December 1966 and came
into force on 23 March 1976. Switzerland ratified the Convention on 18 June
1992, where it came into force on 18 September that year.
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against
Women obliges states parties to take all appropriate means to eliminate
discrimination against women. It was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 18
December 1979. Switzerland ratified the Convention on 27 March 1997.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
sets out in detail the prohibition of discrimination against women in all stages
of life and obliges states parties to take appropriate measures to this end.
- Defines discrimination against women.
- Provides the basis for realising equality between women and men.
- Obliges the state parties to actively adopt measures to achieve equality
between women and men.
The CEDAW was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 18 December 1979 and came
into force on 3 September 1981. Switzerland ratified the Convention on 27 March
1997. On 26th April, 1997, it came into force in Switzerland.
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or
The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment
or Punishment obliges the states parties to prevent and punish acts of torture.
It was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1984. Switzerland
acceded to the Convention on 2 February 1986.
The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment
or Punishment (CAT) obliges the states parties to take all necessary measures to
prevent and punish torture and cruel treatment. Persons in detention are to be
protected against attacks on their physical and mental integrity.
- Prohibits torture in all circumstances.
- Prohibits the extradition of persons to a state where there are
substantial grounds for believing that she or he would be in danger of being
subjected to torture.
- Provides a detailed definition of torture.
- Regulates the punishment and extradition of torturers.
- Regulates the prevention and clarification of cases of torture.
The CAT was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1984 and came
into force on 26 June 1987. Switzerland acceded to the Convention on 2 February
1986, where it came into force on 26 June 1987.
Convention on the Rights of the Child
The Convention on the Rights of the Child contains provisions on the human
rights of young people under 18 years of age. It was adopted by the UN General
Assembly on 20 November 1989. Switzerland ratified the Convention on 24 February
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) provides a comprehensive
guarantee of the human rights of young people under 18 years of age. The rights
enshrined in the Convention are intended to enable children to develop their
personality and abilities to their fullest potential and take into account their
particular need for protection
The Convention guarantees a child's right to:
- Be heard and to participate.
- Protection of his or her welfare.
- An identity.
- Life, survival and development.
- Protection from abuse and exploitation.
- And includes a ban on any form of discrimination.
The Convention was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 20 November 1989.
Switzerland ratified the Convention on 24 February 1997, where it came into
force on 26 March that year.
Human right are essential for societal structure:
Human rights ensure people have basic needs met: Everyone needs access to medicine, food and water, clothes, and shelter. By
including these in a person's basic human rights, everyone has a baseline
level of dignity. Unfortunately, there are still millions of people out
there who don't have these necessities, but saying it's a matter of human
rights allows activists and others to work towards getting those for
Human rights protect vulnerable groups from abuse: The Declaration of Human Rights was created largely because of the Holocaust
and the horrors of WII. During that time in history, the most vulnerable in
society were targeted along with the Jewish population, including those with
disabilities and LGBT. Organizations concerned with human rights focus on
members of society most vulnerable to abuse from power holders, instead of
Human rights allow people to stand up to societal corruption: The concept of human rights allows people to speak up when they experience
abuse and corruption. This is why specific rights like the right to assemble
are so crucial because no society is perfect. The concept of human rights
empowers people and tells them that they deserve dignity from society,
whether it's the government or their work environment. When they don't
receive it, they can stand up.
Human rights encourage freedom of speech and expression: While similar to what you just read above, being able to speak freely
without fear of brutal reprisal is more expansive. It encompasses ideas and
forms of expression that not everybody will like or agree with, but no one
should ever feel like they are going to be in danger from their government
because of what they think. It goes both ways, too, and protects people who
want to debate or argue with certain ideas expressed in their society.
Human rights give people the freedom to practice their religion (or not
practice any): Religious violence and oppression occur over and over again all across
history, from the Crusades to the Holocaust to modern terrorism in the name
of religion. Human rights acknowledge the importance of a person's religion
and spiritual beliefs, and let them practice in peace. The freedom to not
hold to a religion is also a human right.
Human rights allows people to love who they choose: The importance of freedom to love cannot be understated. Being able to
choose what one's romantic life looks like is an essential human right. The
consequences of not protecting this right are clear when you look at
countries where LGBT people are oppressed and abused, or where women are
forced into marriages they don't want.
Human rights encourage equal work opportunities: The right to work and make a living allows people to flourish in their
society. Without acknowledging that the work environment can be biased or
downright oppressive, people find themselves enduring abuse or insufficient
opportunities. The concept of human rights provides a guide for how workers
should be treated and encourages equality.
Human rights give people access to education: Education is important for so many reasons and is crucial for societies
where poverty is common. Organizations and governments concerned with human
rights provide access to schooling, supplies, and more in order to halt the
cycle of poverty. Seeing education as a right means everyone can get access,
not just the elite.
Human rights protect the environment: The marriage between human rights and environmentalism is becoming stronger
due to climate change and the effects it has on people. We live in the
world, we need the land, so it makes sense that what happens to the
environment impacts humanity. The right to clean air, clean soil, and clean
water are all as important as the other rights included in this list.
Human rights provide a universal standard that holds governments
accountable: When the UDHR was released, it had a two-fold purpose: provide a guideline
for the future and force the world to acknowledge that during WWII, human
rights had been violated on a massive scale. With a standard for what is a
human right, governments can be held accountable for their actions. There's
power in naming an injustice and pointing to a precedent, which makes the
UDHR and other human right documents so important.