The nature and development of human rights
The definition of human rights
The Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted by the General Assembly of the UN in 1948, sets out the fundamental purpose for recognising human rights. It states that: ‘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’.
The precise nature of human rights, however, is not fixed and is often the subject of debate. In a general sense, human rights refer to basic rights and freedoms that are believed to belong to all human beings. As stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), these rights differ from ordinary rights under domestic law in that they are considered to be universal, inalienable (cannot be taken away) and inherent in all people. The UDHR is an international declaration of these rights which has formed the basis for laws, constitutions, international treaties and ongoing international debate on human rights.
Human rights are a collection of fundamental standards for the treatment of individuals in a fair, just and free society. They aim to protect individuals from injustice, allow people to achieve their full potential in society, and prevent discrimination against groups of people because of their physical characteristics or beliefs. Countries around the world are seen to have a moral and legal obligation to respect and uphold these rights.
The generic term ‘human rights’ is relatively new and has only come into use since the late 19th century. But the background of human rights is rooted in history, and the rights they protect have developed only gradually over many centuries. Today, the term is used in many different contexts and human rights have evolved into an essential ingredient of justice, occupying an important place in law, society and international relations.
Human rights today continue to be violated in many countries around the world. This can make human rights a perplexing concept. It may seem odd to read about the various treaties and laws that protect human rights, while knowing that these same rights are often ignored or suppressed. Despite this, the concept of human rights is central to the operation of law in modern democratic societies and is an integral part of the international legal system.
Including or covering all or a whole collectively or distributed without limit or exception: available equitably to all members of a society
A right that cannot be taken away
Permanently existing in something; inseparably attached or connected; naturally pertaining to; innate
The theory that certain laws come from an unchanging ‘natural’ body of moral principles as the basis for all human conduct, and so have validity everywhere
The theory that laws are valid simply because they are enacted by authority or from existing decisions and that moral and ideal consideration d not apply
Basic rights and freedoms believed to belong justifiably to all human beings
Developing recognition of human rights
A type of forced labour where a person is considered to be the legal property of another
The right for all citizens to vote in political elections, regardless of status, gender, race or creed
An organised association of workers formed to protect and further their rights and interests
Rights at work, including rights to safe working conditions, minimum wages, paid leave or the right to join a trade union
The right to free and compulsory education for all children
The right of people of a territory or national grouping to determine their own political status and how they will be governed
Right to peace
The right of citizens to expect their government