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Human Rights As An Essential Part Of Societal Structure

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 world.

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 rights.

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 Rights".

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 rights.

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 in 1976.

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 liberty.

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 Discrimination

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 discrimination.

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 1948.

The ICCPR includes inter alia the following human rights:
  1. Protection of physical integrity Right to life, prohibition of torture, prohibition of genocide.
  2. Prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, gender, language, religion, political position, fortune, origins, etc.
  3. Prohibition of slavery and forced labour, arbitrary detention, protection of the dignity of people deprived of their liberty.
  4. Procedural rights
  5. Freedom of thought, religion, movement and freedom of assembly.
  6. Political rights Right to vote and stand for election, equal access to public office

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.

The Convention:
  1. Defines discrimination against women.
  2. Provides the basis for realising equality between women and men.
  3. 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 Punishment

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.

The Convention:
  1. Prohibits torture in all circumstances.
  2. 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.
  3. Provides a detailed definition of torture.
  4. Regulates the punishment and extradition of torturers.
  5. 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 1997.

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:
  1. Be heard and to participate.
  2. Protection of his or her welfare.
  3. An identity.
  4. Life, survival and development.
  5. Protection from abuse and exploitation.
  6. 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:

  1. 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 everyone.
     
  2. 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 ignoring them.
     
  3. 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.
     
  4. 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.
     
  5. 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.
     
  6. 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.
     
  7. 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.
     
  8. 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.
     
  9. 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.
     
  10. 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.

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