Human Rights (HR) are understood as rights, which should be enjoyed by individuals or groups of individuals who are born as humans. They are inalienable and inherent to all humans irrespective of their race, nationality, religion, sex, or any other status.
The concept of HR, despite coming into common currency during the 20th century, has existed since the European enlightenment as ‘Natural Rights’ and it has been constantly evolving throughout human history. The Magna Carter, an English Charter which was originally issued in 1215, influenced the development of the common law and later constitutional documents related to human rights. The United Nations (UN) was established in 1945 after the second world war with the objective of preventing wars in the future. The UN’s attempts to prevent future atrocities by affirming; faith in fundamental human rights, dignity and worth of a human, and commitment to promoting better standards of life in its Charter.
In 1948, the United Nations General assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as a common standard of achievement for all humans and all nations. This is a milestone document in the history of HR that sets outs, for the first time, fundamental human rights that should be protected. Today, the declaration is available in more than five hundred languages and received a Guinness World Record for the most translated document in the world. UDHR addresses HR under its thirty-three articles.
The declaration states that all humans are entitled to the rights and freedoms that come under it, irrespective of their race, nationality, colour, sexual orientation, religion, political belief, or any other status. In Article 14, the declaration addresses the right to seek asylum from persecution. This is an important right if we consider Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and refugees who fled war, conflict, persecution, or any other violation of human rights. It states that everyone has a right to seek asylum in another country and avoid persecution. This protects these people from being trapped in situations where their lives are at risk of persecution and where their safety is not ensured.
Article 23 addresses the right to work and the right to join trade unions. Protection from dismissal is essential as an individual requires a steady and regular source of income to access food, shelter, clothing, and other basic needs. Thus, it is necessary that the individual is engaged in an occupation of choice. It also protects the right to have equal pay for equal work without any discrimination. For example, if a male doctor is paid more than a female doctor for doing the same amount of work because he is a ‘man,’ there is discrimination based on gender. Additionally, the workers’ right to join trade unions is also protected under this article. It states that everyone has a right to form or join a trade union of his choice for the protection of his interests.
Education is considered an essential tool for the complete development of human personality; especially in poverty-stricken communities. Education helps to reduce poverty. Article 23 of the declaration states that elementary education is compulsory and that one should have free access to at least elementary and fundamental education, while technical and professional education as well as higher education should be made equally accessible for all.
Further, there are important Human Rights addressed in UDHR such as the right to life, right to marriage, right to social security, freedom of speech, right to a nationality, freedom from inhuman treatment, and more. In addition to the UDHR, the International Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the Convention on Rights of a Child (CRC) are instruments that have addressed and protected human rights.
Human Rights are understood as the minimum standard necessary for individuals to live a dignified life. Human Rights help us to ensure that people have met their basic needs such as food, shelter, adequate water, sanitation, medicine, and clothes. Even though people cannot still meet these necessities, activists and others can work toward helping such people by saying it’s a matter of Human Rights. Vulnerable groups of society such as Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) and those belonging to the LGBTQ+ community, should not be criticised. These groups are protected from abuse through HR. We should also have the freedom to express ourselves without being afraid of the people who disagree with us. Human rights protect these people who want to question, argue, and debate the ideas that emerged from society. Through HR, people have the freedom to practice any religion they want or not to practice a religion at all. Moreover, we have seen forced marriage and abuse of those belonging to the LGBTQI+ communities in conservative societies. Human rights will enable us the freedom to love who we want. Additionally, HR also protects the environment. Issues such as global warming have negative impacts on human beings and the existence of HR can ensure that all individuals regardless of their background, have access to clean air and water (among other natural resources).
In the modern world, the concept has developed, and various instruments address HR. However, to have a free and dignified life, these rights should be protected. Despite having a vast amount of literature on HR which provide insight and awareness, there continues to be a high number of HR violations in the world. Thus, having the written conventions alone would not be enough unless individual states work more on protecting these HR and are accountable for their actions. This responsibility however, should not and in fact, cannot be vested solely with the government. As citizens, we should also act responsibly and always try to protect the rights of other individuals whilst protecting our own.
“All Human Beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”
~Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
Rtr. Manthini Attygalle
Share this content: