July 19, 2006
Human rights are international moral and legal norms that aspire to protect all people everywhere from severe political, legal, and social abuses.
What are Human Rights?
Human rights are minimum standards of legal, civil and political freedom that are granted universally. These rights take precedence over other claims by individuals, groups or states. Human rights refer to the perception that humans, no matter what ethnicity, nationality or legal influence, have universal rights. These rights usually include the right to life, freedom from torture, freedom of movement, the right to an adequate standard of living, freedom of religion, the right to self-determination, the right to participation in cultural and political life and the right to education. Many international as well as national laws safeguard the human rights of its inhabitants, although these laws and their implementations vary.
Human rights are political norms dealing mainly with how people should be treated by their governments and institutions. They are not ordinary moral norms applying mainly to interpersonal conduct (such as prohibitions of lying and violence).
Human rights are those basic standards without which people cannot live in dignity. To violate someones human rights is to treat that person as though she or he were not a human being. In conclusion, human rights belong to all people simply because they are human beings.
Human Rights in International law
Many human rights violations have occurred during the centuries with many countries resisting the acceptance of universal human rights, beyond metaphysical or philosophical principles. In some countries massive popular upheavals took place and gave birth to Human Rights Charters, for example the Magna Carta, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789, followed two years later by the American Bill of Rights.
The international era of the human rights debate began in earnest with the creation of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 1946, which was composed of 18 member states. During its first sessions, the main item on the agenda was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Commission set up a drafting committee which devoted itself exclusively to preparing the draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
During the two-year drafting process of the Universal Declaration, the drafters maintained a common ground for discussions and a common goal: respect for fundamental rights and freedoms. Despite their conflicting views on certain questions, they agreed to include in the document the principles of non-discrimination, civil and political rights, and social and economic rights. They also agreed that the Declaration had to be universal.
On 10 December 1948, at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, the 58 member states of the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with 48 states in favour and eight abstentions (two countries were not present at the time of the voting). The General Assembly proclaimed the Declaration as a "common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations", towards which individuals and societies should "strive by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance".
Although the Declaration, which comprises a broad range of rights, is not a legally binding document, it has inspired more than 60 human rights instruments which together constitute an international standard of human rights. These instruments include the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which are legally binding treaties. Together with the Universal Declaration, they constitute the International Bill of Rights.
Challenges still lie ahead, despite many accomplishments in the field of human rights. Many in the international community believe that human rights, democracy and development are intertwined. Unless human rights are respected, the maintenance of international peace and security and the promotion of economic and social development cannot be achieved. Human rights "specify limits to a regime's internal autonomy".
International Human Rights Day is celebrated yearly on 10 December.
UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies
There are six major international human rights treaties (legally binding instruments) within the UN human rights system that deal with civil and political rights, economic and social rights, racial discrimination, torture, gender discrimination, and children's rights.
A country becomes a party to a treaty by ratifying or acceding to it. An individual or group can only use the treaty system to seek redress when the specific country is failing to observe obligations it has formally accepted by becoming party to a treaty. This also applies to the complaints mechanisms: a complaint can only be filed by a group or person if the specific state has accepted the complaints provisions in the treaty in question. The status of ratification of the principal international human rights treaties can be found through the OHCHR web site, www.unhchr.ch, under: OHCHR Programs, Conventional Mechanisms.
There is a supervisory committee for each of these treaties that monitors the way in which states parties (the countries whose governments have accepted the treaty) are fulfilling their human rights obligations as stated in the relevant treaty. The committees (also known as treaty bodies) vary in size from 10 to 23 members and are composed of international human rights experts.
Human Rights Treaty Bodies and Indigenous Peoples :
Universal Declaration of Human Rights : http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html
United Nations on Human Rights : http://www.un.org/rights/
Stanford Encyclopedia on Human Rights : http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rights-human/
Wikipedia on Human Rights : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights