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Definition of Human Rights

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Presentation on theme: "Definition of Human Rights"— Presentation transcript:

1 Definition of Human Rights
Human rights are: universal legal guarantees protecting individuals and groups against actions and omissions that interfere with fundamental freedoms, entitlements and human dignity. Human rights law obliges Governments and other duty-bearers to do certain things and prevents them from doing others.

2 Core Principles of Human Rights
Universal: All individuals are equal as human beings and by virtue of the inherent dignity of each human person. Inalienable: All people everywhere in the world are entitled to human rights. A person cannot voluntarily give them up. Nor can others take them away from him or her. Indivisible and interrelated: Rights are completely interdependent and depend on each other for their effectiveness. Non-discrimination: Everyone is entitled to human rights without discrimination Empowerment/participation: These rights endow people the power to claim them from their governments, as opposed to charity which is an act of generosity. Human rights are owned by everyone. Accountability: Governments have certain duties and obligations to respect, protect and fulfil human rights. (Individuals and non-state actors also have duties to others)

3 Non-discrimination – a dual obligation
Negative: The state must not discriminate against specific individuals or groups Positive: the state must take steps to identify vulnerable individuals or groups in need of extra attention to ensure their rights are guaranteed.

4 When can rights be restricted?
It is not the norm for rights to be limited but the exception. They can only be limited if the following 5 criteria are met: The restriction must be allowed for in law The restriction must respond to a pressing public or social need The restriction is strictly necessary in a democratic society to achieve the public/social need There are no less intrusive and restrictive means available to reach the same objective; and The restriction is based on scientific evidence and not drafted or imposed arbitrarily — that is, in an unreasonable or otherwise discriminatory manner. Any restriction must be of a limited duration, respectful of human dignity, and subject to review

5 Rights Bearers and Duty Bearers

6 Introduction to International Human Rights Law

7 Pre-World War II Various human rights principles - long history in many traditions. e.g.: Hammurabi Code (Babylon, c BCE) Plato, Aristotle (Greece, c BCE) Confucianism (c. China, 570 BCE - ) Asoka “The Edicts” (India, c BCE) Kautilya, “The Arthashastra” (India, c. 200 BCE) Judaism, Islam, Christianity Liberalism (Milton, Locke, Mill, Paine, Voltaire, Kant) Communism (e.g. Marx) The point here is that human rights are not a 20th century or a Western invention but a process that had a significant boost post WW2 (in the form of the international human rights system and international human rights law as we now know it) and that continues today. Of course many of the principles contained in the teachings, laws and philosophies above are unrecognisable from how they are understood today. And some would fundamentally disagree (Liberals and Communists for example) Nobody suggests that Confucius was a libertarian or a champion of civil rights– but the point is that Confucianism too contained teachings that relate to current human rights principles. e.g. Role of the ruler/state in securing economic well-being & education Below are some very short pointers to the kinds of principles that can be found in the above: Hammurabi Code (Babylon, c BCE) – freedom of speech, proportionality of sentence (bearing in mind this is very very old – torture was still acceptable) Plato, Aristotle (Greece, c BCE) – property rights, just societies (Again bearing in mind slavery was not a problem in ancient Greece!) Confucianism – economic and social rights, removal of a tyrant (See Mencius “On the right to overthrow a tyrant c BCE) Asoka “The Edicts” (India, c BCE) Religious freedom, discrimination, non-violence Kautilya, “The Arthashastra” (India, c. 200 BCE) – rule of law, labour rights Judaism, Islam, Christianity - Various – but including tolerance/universalism, religious freedom, right to life Liberalism (Milton, Locke, Mill, Voltaire, Kant) Various civil rights such as freedom of expression, freedom of religion Communism – Marx – universal suffrage, labour rights, economic and social rights For an excellent book on this (on which this slide is based), including extracts from many of these texts and more, see “The Human Rights Reader” Micheline Ishay, 2nd Ed, Routledge, 2007

8 Post World War II In response to the atrocities of the Second World War, human rights come to the fore At the San Francisco Conference, where the UN Charter was adopted, some 40 non-governmental organizations successfully lobbied delegates on human rights Human rights a core aim of the UN and legal obligation under the Charter The Charter obligations however, are weak and vague. It was decided not to put a bill of rights into the Charter itself - hence the development of the UDHR.

9 ‘Basic Rights and Freedoms’
Between 1946 and 1948, international delegations at the Human Rights commission debated every word in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. After 1,400 rounds of voting, the UDHR was adopted by the General Assembly on 10 December 1948 as ‘as a common standard of achievement for all people and nations’ The Commission on Human Rights’ first meetings occurred over a two-week period, between January 27 and February 10, The Commission decided to form a smaller drafting group, composed of Roosevelt (U.S.), Chang (China), Malik (Lebanon) and John Humphrey, who represented the UN Secretariat, as well as representatives from Australia, Chile, France, the Philippines, the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian SSR, the United Kingdom, Uruguay and Yugoslavia. These delegates were charged with creating the draft of an International Bill of Rights. During this propcess, UNESCO carried out a study considering the case for the UDHR from international philosophers and scholars. Original documents of the UNESCO study including replies from Gandhi and Aldus Huxley, may be found at And Eleanor Roosevelt served as the first Chairperson of the UN Human Rights Commission and played a critical role in drafting the UDHR.

10 UDHR The UDHR outlines the individual rights and freedoms for everyone based on the principle that human rights are based ‘on the inherent dignity of every person’ It contains both civil and political as well as economic social and cultural protections It is not legally binding, but nonetheless forms the bedrock of international human rights law It is now available in over 350 languages – the most translated documented in the world

11 International Bill of Human Rights
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights were adopted in 1966 and entered into force in 1976 These conventions put the rights and freedoms of the UDHR into the form of binding treaties. The three documents are referred to as the International Bill of Human rights There was a need for two treaties due to cold war divides between civil and political rights (supported more by the US and Western States) and Economic Social and Cultural rights, supported more by Soviet and Asian states

12 Development of International Human Rights Law
Customary international law (ongoing process) Treaties (and monitoring mechanisms )on: Racial discrimination 1965 Discrimination against women 1979 Torture 1984 Children (all but two states are parties to this treaty) 1989 Migrant workers 1990 Disabled persons 2006 Enforced disappearances 2006 ‘Soft law’ dozens of declarations and guidelines on issues such as indigenous people’s rights, HIV/AIDs etc

13 Introduction to the UN human rights system

14 Basic diagram placing the human rights mechanisms within the broader UN framework as it relates to HIV and drug control – participants may be more familiar with the HIV and drug control bodies. This can be used as a point of reference for the facilitator to discuss the role of the Council, special procedures, treaty bodes and the OHCHR It is of course not complete, but an attempt to make sense of the interconnections of the system for participants

15 Political/Inter-Governmental
General Assembly (3rd Committee) ECOSOC Human Rights Council Regular sessions 3 times a year for 3 weeks Special sessions Universal Periodic Review Special Procedures 1503 complaint procedure (gross and systematic violations)

16 Programmatic/Secretariat
Secretary General Special Representatives (e.g. Violence Against children) Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Department of UN Secretariat (alongside UNODC) Headed by UN High Commissioner for Human rights Secretariat for Human Rights Council and Treaty Bodies Technical assistance and capacity building to states Mandate to mainstream human rights in UN system Civil society Unit: Other UN agencies/funds/programmes: e.g. UNICEF, UNDP, WHO etc all have human rights mandates related to specific areas

17 Treaty Monitoring Each UN human rights treaty has a corresponding independent committee (a Treaty Body) Consideration of state reports Complaints mechanisms (All but CRC) Inquiry procedures (CAT, CEDAW) General Comments (Provide more detail on specific articles) Days of General Discussion NGOs central to all the work of Treaty Bodies

18 Independent Expert Special Procedures Special Rapporteurs
e.g. SR on Torture, SR on the right to health Independent Experts E.g. IE on Working Groups E.g. WG on Arbitrary Detention Country missions, complaints mechanisms, urgent appeals, annual reports to GA and Human Rights Council NGOs frequently initiate complaints, urgent appeals etc and are points of contact for country missions Special procedures are mechanisms of the human rights council

19 Learn the System! Helpful guides:
“A Brief Introduction to the UN Human Rights System” (Part of this training package) “Working with the United Nations Human Rights Programme: A Handbook for Civil Society” Open Society Institute Public Health Program, “Human Rights Documentation and Advocacy: A Guide for Organizations of People Who Use Drugs”


21 Issue to be solved

22 State Obligations To Respect: States must refrain from interfering directly or indirectly with the enjoyment of the right. To Protect: States must take measures that prevent third parties from interfering with the enjoyment of the right. To Fulfill: States must adopt appropriate legislative, administrative, budgetary, judicial, promotional and other measures towards the full realisation of the right (facilitate) and directly provide assistance or services for the realisation of these rights (provide)

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