Every person has dignity and value. One of the ways that we recognise this fundamental worth is by acknowledging and respecting a persons human rights. Human rights are concerned with equality and fairness. They recognise our freedom to make choices about our life and develop our potential as human beings. They are about living a life free from fear, harassment or discrimination. There are a number of basic rights that people from around the world have agreed on, such as the right to life, freedom from torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment, rights to a fair trial, free speech and freedom of religion, rights to health, education and an adequate standard of living.
These human rights are the same for all people everywhere – male and female, 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’.
Rights also describe what is lawful: that is, some rights may be laid down in law. If you have a legal right to something, you may be able to defend it in court.
In many situations, though, rights exist but are not covered by law. These rights are often called moral rights and are based on people’s sense of what is fair or just.
Human rights cover virtually every area of human life and activity.
They include civil and political rights, such as freedom of speech and freedom from torture. They also include economic, social and cultural rights, such as the rights to health and education. Some rights apply to individuals, such as the right to a fair trial: these are called individual rights. Others apply to groups of people, such as women and children: these are called collective rights.
One of these characteristics of human rights is that they are ‘universal’. This means they apply to everyone, regardless of status, race, gender, nationality or other distinction.
Another characteristic is that they are ‘indivisible’. In other words, people are entitled to all rights – civil and political (such as the right to a fair trial) and economic, social and cultural (such as the right to education). They can’t be ranked, or traded off.
If one delves into all of the various documents that together form the codified body of human rights, one can identify and distinguish between five different categories of substantive human rights. These are as follows: rights to life; rights to freedom; rights to political participation; rights to the protection of the rule of law; rights to fundamental social, economic, and cultural goods. These rights span the so-called three generations of rights and involve a complex combination of both liberty and claim rights. Some rights, such as for example the right to life, consist of both liberty and claim rights in roughly equal measure. Thus, the adequate protection of the right to life requires the existence of liberty rights against others trespassing against one’s person and the existence of claim rights to have access to basic prerequisites to sustaining one’s life, such as an adequate diet and health-care. Other rights, such as social, economic, and cultural rights, for example, are weighted more heavily towards the existence of various claim rights, which requires the positive provision of the objects of such rights. The making of substantive distinctions between human rights can have controversial, but important, consequences. Human rights are typically understood to be of equal value, each right is conceived of as equally important as every other. On this view, the potential for conflict between fundamental human rights cannot exist. One is simply meant to attach equal moral weight to each and every human right. This prohibits arranging human rights in order of importance.
Fundamental human rights are too closely linked to be rated on a scale of most importance to least important.
If one reads the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, will probably find yourself thinking that some of the rights described are more crucial than others for hs own well-being. This reaction is rooted in one’s own history and circumstances. To other people, with different personal histories and living under different conditions, other rights will seem more important. Each right, however, carries great importance for all people. The 30 articles of the Declaration are not organized under particular categories because they are too closely interrelated for such divisions. They are also interdependent, building on one another and reinforcing one another. In other words, human rights are indivisible.
Arguments over which rights are most important raged during the drafting of the Declaration, and controversy continued even within the past decade. Western governments tended to maintain during the cold war that civil and political rights took precedence over economic and social rights. Until its collapse, the Soviet Union and its allies took the opposite position.
In the 1990s, international understanding that basic rights are interdependent and universal has expanded dramatically. States throughout the world have agreed that neither individuals nor governments can be permitted to ignore rights which they may consider inconvenient at particular times or under particular circumstances. And no authorities can justify failure to protect certain rights on grounds that scarce resources must be used to protect rights with “higher priority.”
The idea that there are first-priority rights and second-priority rights has proved intolerable to people suffering human rights violations, as well as to people experienced in protecting their own human rights and the human rights of others. They have seen the whole system of human rights begin to unravel when one individual or group is denied basic human rights or when one human right is ignored.
Without freedom of expression, for example, there can be no free press or criticism of government policies. Insulated from the observations of local communities and the reports of independent media, government authorities can continue to implement economically and socially destructive policies. Over and over again, such policies have led to famine, economic collapse, or other disasters.
As already stated above , Human rights comprise civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not distinguish the rights codified therein on the basis of their importance and does not provide for a hierarchical classification of rights. In practice, however, for several decades, economic, social and cultural rights, as opposed to civil and political rights, were viewed primarily as aspirations with few legal obligations for States. This dichotomy, fuelled to a large extent by political and ideological divisions of the Cold War, was exemplified in the elaboration and wording of two separate International Covenants, adopted in 1966, on civil and political rights and on economic, social and cultural rights.
Meanwhile, in 1968 the Proclamation of Teheran by the International Conference on Human Rights confirmed that human rights and fundamental freedoms are indivisible. The overwhelming political changes following the end of the Cold War opened the door for the promotion and protection of all human rights globally on the same footing and with the same emphasis. In 1993, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights recalling the Universal Declaration reaffirmed the principle of indivisibility, interdependence and interrelatedness of all human rights. Pursuant to this principle all human rights are interconnected and equally important for the full development of the human personality and for a person’s well-being. Thus, there can be no genuine and effective implementation of civil and political rights in the absence of respect for economic, social and cultural rights.