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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.

Preamble, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

1. What are human rights?

Human rights are held by all persons equally, universally and forever.
Human rights are universal: They are always the same for all human beings
everywhere in the world. You do not have human rights because you are a citizen of
any country but because you are a member of the human family. This means children
have human rights as well as adults.
Human rights are inalienable: You cannot lose these rights any more than you can
cease to be a human being.
Human rights are indivisible: No-one can take away a right because it is less
important or non-essential.
Human rights are interdependent: Together human rights form a complementary
framework. For example, your ability to participate in local decision making is
directly affected by your right to express yourself, to associate with others, to get an
education and even to obtain the necessities of life.
Human rights are interdependent: Together human rights form a complementary
framework. For example, your ability to participate in local decision making is
directly affected by your right to express yourself, to associate with others, to get an
education and even to obtain the necessities of life.
Human rights reflect basic human needs. They establish basic standards without
which people cannot live in dignity. To violate someones human rights is to treat that
person as though he or she were not a human being. To advocate human rights is to
demand that the human dignity of all people be respected.
In claiming these human rights, everyone also accepts responsibilities: to respect the
rights of others and to protect and support people whose rights are abused or denied.
Meeting these responsibilities means claiming solidarity with all other human beings.


Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place
of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We
are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all
interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.
-United Nations Human Rights
(Office of High Commissioner)
Universal human rights are often expressed and guaranteed by law, in the forms of treaties,
customary international law, general principles and other sources of international law.
International human rights law lays down 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.

Precursors of twentieth century human rights:

Many people regard the development of human rights law as one of the greatest
accomplishments of the twentieth century.
However, human rights did not begin with law or the United Nations. Throughout
human history societies have developed systems of justice and propriety that sought
the welfare of society as a whole.
References to justice, fairness and humanity are common to all world religions:
Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism and Islam.
However, formal principles usually differ from common practice. Until the eighteenth
century no society, civilisation or culture, in either the Western or non Western world,
had a widely endorsed practice or vision of inalienable human rights.
Documents asserting individual rights, such as the Magna Carta (1215), the English
Bill of Rights (1689) the French Declaration on the Rights of Man and Citizen
(1789) and the US Constitution and Bill of Right (1791) are the written precursors
to many of todays human rights instruments.
Yet most of these influential landmarks excluded women, many minorities and
members of certain social, religious, economic and political groups. None reflects the
fundamental concept that everyone is entitled to certain rights solely by virtue of their
Other important historical antecedents of human rights lie in nineteenth century
efforts to prohibit the slave trade and to limit the horrors of war.
For example, the Geneva Conventions established bases of international
humanitarian law, which covers the way that wars should be fought and the protection
of individuals during armed conflict.
They specifically protect people who do not take part in the fighting and those who
can no longer fight (e.g. wounded, sick and shipwrecked troops, prisoners of war).
Concern over the protection of certain vulnerable groups was raised by the League of
Nations at the end of the First World War.
For example, the International Labour Organisation (ILO, originally a body of the
League of Nations and now a UN agency) established many important conventions
setting standards to protect working people, such as the Minimum Age Convention
(1919), the Forced Labour Convention (1930) and the Forty-hour Week Convention
Although the international human rights framework builds on these earlier documents,
it is principally based on United Nations documents.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Two major influences in the mid-twentieth century propelled human rights onto the
global arena and the awareness of people around the world.
The first was struggles of colonial people to assert their independence from foreign
powers, claiming their human equality and right to self-determination.
The second catalyst was the Second World War.
The extermination by Nazi Germany of over six million Jews, Roma people,
homosexuals and persons with disabilities horrified the world.
Calls came from across the globe for human rights standards to bolster international
peace and protect citizens from abuses by governments.
These voices played a critical role in the establishment of the United Nations in 1945
and are echoed in its founding document, the UN Charter.
Rights for all members of the human family were first articulated in the United
Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), one of the first
initiatives of the newly established United Nations.
Its thirty articles together form a comprehensive statement covering economic, social,
cultural, political, and civil rights.
The Declaration is both universal (it applies to all people everywhere) and indivisible
(all rights are equally important to the full realization of ones humanity).

The human rights framework:

Although the Universal Declaration has achieved the status of customary international
law in its more than sixty years.
As a declaration it is only a statement of intent, a set of principles to which United
Nations member states commit themselves in an effort to provide all people a life of
human dignity.
For the rights defined in a declaration to have full legal force, they must be written
into documents called conventions (also referred to as treaties or covenants), which
set international norms and standards.
Immediately after the Universal Declaration was adopted, work began to codify the
rights it contained into a legally binding convention.
For political and procedural reasons, these rights were divided between two separate
covenants, each addressing different categories of rights.

(i)The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR):

Articulates the specific, liberty-oriented rights that a state may not take from its
citizens, such as freedom of expression and freedom of movement.
(ii)The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR):
Addresses those articles in the UDHR that define an individuals rights to self-
determinations as well as basic necessities, such as food, housing and health care,
which a state should provide for its citizens, in so far as it is able.
The UN General Assembly adopted both covenants in 1966.
Since its adoption in 1948, the Universal Declaration has served as the foundation for
the twenty major human rights conventions.
Together these constitute the human rights framework, the evolving body of these
international documents that define human rights and establish mechanisms to
promote and protect them.

QUESTION: Are there non-governmental organisations in your country that monitor and
advocate for human rights? Do any especially work on childrens rights? What do they do? Are
they eff ective?
The evolution of a human rights convention:
The creation of a human rights convention involves the collaborative efforts of many
individuals and institutions.
The starting point is always a perceived need, a human rights problem that needs to be
addressed by the international community.
It may be a general need to codify basic rights, such as those in the Covenants, or a
specific global concern, such as the proliferation of land mines or the trafficking of
The Convention on the Rights of the Child provides an example of the process by
which a human rights convention evolves and the role of NGOs in its creation.
1. Identification of a problem:
Efforts to protect children from abuse and exploitation date back to the nineteenth
century, when children were generally regarded as the property of their parents until
they reached the age of maturity, generally twenty-one.
Reformers focused on child labour and abuse of homeless or orphaned children. In
1923 Eglantine Jebb drafted The Declaration on the Rights of the Child, which was
adopted by the League of Nations in 1924.
However, neither the UDHR nor the conventions that evolved as the UN human rights
framework made any specific notice of the rights of children.
These documents tacitly generalised that like every human being, children had human
rights, but they failed to recognize children as rights-bearing individuals.
2. A statement of general principles:
The first step toward the Childrens Convention was the UN Declaration on the Rights
of the Child
In 1959 a working group drafted ten principles setting forth the basic rights to which
all children should be entitled.
However, as a declaration, these principles were not legally binding on governments.
3. Drafting process:
These principles then needed to be codified in a convention.
The formal drafting process for the Childrens Convention lasted nine years.
During which representatives of governments, intergovernmental agencies, such as
UNICEF and UNESCO, and nongovernmental organisations large (e.g. Save the
Children, the International Red Cross, Oxfam) and small (e.g. national organisations
working on specifi c issues such as child labour, health, education or sports) worked
together to create consensus on the language of the convention.
4. Adoption:
The Childrens Convention was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989.
5. Ratification:
Ratification is a principal's approval of an act of its agent where the agent lacked
authority to legally bind the principal.
The Childrens Convention was immediately signed and ratified by more nations in a
shorter period of time than any other UN convention.
6. Entry into force:
As a result of its rapid ratification, the Childrens Convention entered into force as
international law in 1990.
Only a few months after its adoption. Furthermore, the total number of member states
that have ratified the Childrens Convention has surpassed that of all other
So far only two member states have not ratified it: Somalia and the United States.
7. Implementation, Monitoring and Advocacy:
As with all human rights conventions, the Childrens Convention provides
individuals, NGOs and international organisations with a legal basis for their
advocacy on behalf of children.
They can motivate a government to ratify a treaty and monitor how they keep their
treaty obligations.
When a government fails to meet these commitments and violates the rights of
children, NGOs can call them to account.
In cases of systematic abuse, individuals and NGOs can bring a case before the
Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Human rights have been mainly classified under four headings, namely, civil rights,
political rights, socio-economic rights and cultural rights.
Civil rights :
I. It Includes freedom of speech, press, assembly, and worship.
II. These rights are enforced and protected through the procedural right of
individual equality before law.
Political rights:
I. The privileges that provide the citizens a share in the exercise of the sovereign
power of the state.
II. Some of the political rights are rights to free elections, and also they permit
the individuals to represent certain social or secular institutions.
I. Rights include the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well
being of oneself and his family.
II. They include, food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social
III. They also provide the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness,
disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances
beyond one's control.
IV. In other words, socio-economic rights are rights to education, to a decent
standard of living, to medical treatment, or to freedom from want and fear.
Cultural rights
I. Include the freedom of thought, the freedom of communication, and the
freedom of aesthetic expression and appreciation.
II. Cultural rights include the rights, which gain strength against a threat of mass
manipulation from a monopoly of the public media by certain powerful private


As already stated earlier, civil and political rights are the rights that generally restrict
the powers of the government in respect of actions affecting the individual and his
or her autonomy (civil rights), and confer an opportunity upon people to contribute
to the determination of laws and participate in government (political rights).
Some of the most important rights in this category are:
Right to Life
Everyone has the right to life.
According to the international human rights mechanisms - this right can be violated
in a variety of ways, including: deaths in custody as a result of torture, neglect, the
use of force, or life-threatening conditions of detention; killings by state agents, or
persons acting in direct or indirect compliance with the State, when the force used is
not absolutely necessary and proportionate to the circumstances; expulsion or
"refoulement" (illegal return) of persons to a country where their lives are in danger;
failure by the state to investigate alleged violations of the right to life and to bring
those responsible to justice.
International human rights mechanisms also place limits on the use of the death penalty.

The right to freedom from torture

Everyone has the right to freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment
or punishment.

According to the international human rights mechanisms, this right can be violated
in a variety of ways, including: the deliberate infliction of severe physical or
psychological pain by state agents with the intention of causing suffering; expelling or
returning a person to a country in which they face a real risk of being tortured or
subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; keeping persons in very
poor conditions of detention, even if there is no intention to inflict suffering; corporal
(physical) punishment of children in schools.

The right to a fair trial

Everyone has the right to a fair trial, and - according to the international human rights
mechanisms - this right can be violated in a variety of ways, including by: hearing criminal
charges before administrative bodies which are not independent and impartial courts; trials in
which, from the beginning, one party has a significant advantage over the other (this is said to
breach the principle of "equality of arms"); excessive delays in bringing a case to trial and/or
in completing court proceedings; secret trials; failing to respect the presumption of innocence
by denying procedural protection to accused persons (e.g. information about the nature of the
charge, time to prepare a defense, access to a lawyer, the possibility to confront witnesses and
(if necessary) access to interpretation).

The right to freedom of assembly and association

Everyone has the right to freedom of assembly and association. According to the international
human rights mechanisms, this right can be violated in a variety of ways, including:
preventing peaceful public demonstrations (unless it can be shown that there would be a
serious danger to public safety and order if the demonstration took place); restricting
possibilities to join voluntary associations; denying persons the right to form and/or join
organized unions.

The Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion

This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and
freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest
his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching. Coercing people to adopt
certain religion and imposing unreasonable restrictions, including criminal penalty, for
exercising ones own religion are the most typical violations of this right. Freedom to
manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by
law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental
rights and freedoms of others.

The right to freedom of expression

Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, and - according to the international human
rights mechanisms - this right can be violated in a variety of ways, including by: restricting
access to political, artistic or commercial information and ideas (e.g. denying pregnant
women information about abortion facilities); limiting the freedom of the press; placing
undue restrictions (excluding reasonable licensing restrictions) on broadcasting.

The right to an effective remedy

Everyone has the right to an effective remedy if his/her human rights are violated. According
to the international human rights mechanisms, this right can be violated in a variety of ways,
including by: failing to provide adequate procedures to complain about, or obtain
compensation for, killings by security forces; not carrying out thorough enquiries into alleged
ill-treatment by security forces; not establishing complaints procedures regarding the
interception of telephone calls; failing to provide means of redress for persons suspended
from school on the grounds of their religious affiliation.

The right to privacy

Everyone has the right to privacy, and - according to the international human rights
mechanisms - this right can be violated in a variety of ways, including by: intervening in a
person's private life (which includes their right to form relationships and to enjoy sexual
autonomy); disrupting family life (which includes the right to marry and to found a family);
destroying a person's home or preventing a person from living in his/her home; interfering
with private correspondence.

The right to liberty and security

Everyone has the right to liberty and security and - according to the international human
rights mechanisms - this right can be violated in a variety of ways, including: unlawful or
arbitrary detention (where there is no legal basis for the deprivation of liberty), for example
when a person is kept in detention after the completion of their prison sentence or despite an
amnesty law which applies to them; detention of persons because they have exercised the
rights and freedoms guaranteed by international instruments, including the ones described in
this manual; detention after a trial which did not comply with international standards for a
fair trial (see the right to a fair trial).

The right to asylum

Everyone who has a well-founded fear of persecution has the right to asylum in a country
where they will be safe. According to the international human rights mechanisms, this right
can be violated in a variety of ways, including by: not providing the facilities necessary to
enable people to claim asylum (including interpreters and properly-trained immigration
staff); failing to give adequate consideration to a request for asylum; expelling a person to a
country in which he/she would be at risk of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or

The right to freedom from discrimination

Everyone has the right to freedom from discrimination, and - according to the international
human rights mechanisms - this right can be violated in a variety of ways, including by
discriminating against someone because of: sex, race, color, language, religion, political
allegiance, opinions, nationality, social background, association with a national minority.

These rights guarantee the positive liberty to contribute to the process of governing the affairs
of society in which one lives. Political rights presume that the government processes should
be structured so as to provide opportunities for political participation of all eligible citizens.
According to the modern concept of political rights, every citizen should have the right and
opportunity, without unreasonable restrictions, to take part in the conduct of public affairs,
directly or through chosen representatives.
While political rights are very much emphasized in the US, the percentage of Americans who
choose to actively participate political process is one of the lowest among industrialized
nations. This fact alone speaks volumes about the political environment in which American
citizens are expected to exercise their political freedoms. For example, in the 2000
presidential campaign, for example, less than 50 percent of the eligible voters cast their
ballots. Scholars differ on why this decline in voting has occurred from the high point of the
late 19th century, when voting rates regularly ran at 85 percent or better of qualified voters.
Some historians attribute the decline to the corresponding decline in the importance of
political parties in the daily lives of the people. Others think that the growth of well-moneyed
interest groups has led people to lose interest in elections fought primarily through television
and newspaper advertisements. When non-voters are queried as to why they did not vote the
answers range widely. There are those who did not think that their single vote would make a
difference, and those who did not believe that the issues affected them, as well as those who
just did not care a sad commentary in light of the long historical movement toward
universal suffrage in the United States.
But many people were reminded by the closeness of the 2000 presidential election that the
individual's vote does count. A shift of fractions of a percentage point in half-a-dozen states
could easily have swung the election the other way. Perhaps as a result, Americans in the
future will not take this important right, a right that lies at the very heart of the notion of
"consent of the governed," quite as much for granted.