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[R]ecognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of thehuman family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.
reamble, Universal eclaration o Human Rights
1. What are human rights?
Human rights are held by all persons equally, universally and orever.
Human rights are
: they are always the same or all human beings everywhere inthe world. You do not have human rights because you are a citizen o any country but becauseyou are a member o the human amily. is means children have human rights as well asadults.Human rights are
you cannot lose these rights any more than you can cease to bea human being.Human rights are
: no-one can take away a right because it is ‘less important’ or‘non-essential’.Human rights are
together human rights orm a complementary ramework.For example, your ability to participate in local decision making is directly affected by yourright to express yoursel, to associate with others, to get an education and even to obtain thenecessities o lie.Human rights refect basic human needs. ey establish basic standards without which people
cannot live in dignity. o violate someone’s human rights is to treat that person as though heor she were not a human being. o advocate human rights is to demand that the human dig-nity o all people be respected.n claiming these human rights, everyone also accepts responsibilities: to respect the rights
o others and to protect and support people whose rights are abused or denied. eeting theseresponsibilities means claiming solidarity with all other human beings.
Precursors of twentieth century human rights
any people regard the development o human rights law as one o the greatest accomplishments o the twentieth century. However, human rights did not begin with law or the United ations. rough-out human history societies have developed systems o justice and propriety that sought the welare o society as a whole. Reerences to justice, airness and humanity are common to all world religions: Bud-dhism, hristianity, onucianism and slam. However, ormal principles usually differ rom commonpractise. Until the eighteenth century no society, civilisation or culture, in either the Western or non-Western world, had a widely endorsed practise or vision o inalienable human rights.ocuments asserting individual rights, such as the agna arta (115), the nglish Bill o Rights(16) the French eclaration on the Rights o an and itizen (17) and the U onstitution andBill o Right (171) are the written precursors to many o today’s human rights instruments. Yet mosto these infuential landmarks excluded women, many minorities and members o certain social, reli-
gious, economic and political groups. one refects the undamental concept that everyone is entitledto certain rights solely by virtue o their humanity.ther important historical antecedents o human rights lie in nineteenth century efforts to prohibit theslave trade and to limit the horrors o war. For example, the
Geneva Conventions
established bases o international
humanitarian law,
which covers the way that wars should be ought and the protectiono individuals during armed confict. ey specifically protect people who do not take part in the fight-ing and those who can no longer fight (e.g. wounded, sick and shipwrecked troops, prisoners o war).oncern over the protection o certain vulnerable groups was raised by the League o ations at the endo the First World War. For example, the
International Labour Organisation
(L, originally a body o the League o ations and now a U agency) established many important conventions setting stan-dards to protect working people, such as the inimum ge onvention (11), the Forced Labour on-vention (130) and the Forty-hour Week onvention (135). lthough the international human rights ramework builds on these earlier documents, it is principally based on United ations documents.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
wo major infuences in the mid-twentieth century propelled human rights onto the global arena andthe awareness o people around the world. e first was struggles o colonial people to assert their inde-pendence rom oreign powers, claiming their human equality and right to sel-determination. e sec-ond catalyst was the econd World War. e extermination by azi Germany o over six million Jews,Roma people, homosexuals and persons with disabilities horrified the world. alls came rom across theglobe or human rights standards to bolster international peace and protect citizens rom abuses by gov-ernments. ese voices played a critical role in the establishment o the United ations in 145 and areechoed in its ounding document, the U harter.Rights or all members o the human amily were first articulated in the United ations
Universal Dec-laration of Human Rights
(UHR), one o the first initiatives o the newly established United ations.ts thirty articles together orm a comprehensive statement covering economic, social, cultural, politi-cal, and civil rights. e eclaration is both universal (it applies to all people everywhere) and indivis-ible (all rights are equally important to the ull realization o one’s humanity). ee PPENDICES, P. 289,or both the complete text and a child-riendly version o the UHR.
The human rights framework 
 lthough the Universal eclaration has achieved the status o customary international law in itsmore than sixty years, as a
it is only a statement o intent, a set o principles to whichUnited ations member states commit themselves in an effort to provide all people a lie o humandignity. For the rights defined in a declaration to have ull legal orce, they must be written into docu-ments called
(also reerred to as
), which set international normsand standards.mmediately ater the Universal eclaration was adopted, work began to codiy the rights it containedinto a legally binding convention. For political and procedural reasons, these rights were divided betweentwo separate covenants, each addressing different categories o rights. e
International Covenant onCivil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
articulates the specific, liberty-oriented rights that a state may nottake rom its citizens, such as reedom o expression and reedom o movement. e
InternationalCovenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
addresses those articles in the UHR that define an individual’s rights to sel-determinations as well as basic necessities, such as ood, hous-ing and health care, which a state should provide or its citizens, in so ar as it is able. e U General
 ssembly adopted both covenants in 166. ee PPENDICES, P. 289, or a list o countries that have rat-ified the ovenants.ince its adoption in 14, the Universal eclaration has served as the oundation or the twenty majorhuman rights conventions. ogether these constitute the human rights ramework, the evolving body o these international documents that define human rights and establish mechanisms to promote andprotect them.
The commitment of ratifi cation
o a convention is a serious, legally binding undertaken by a government on behal o astate. very convention contains articles that establish procedures or monitoring and reporting howratiying governments are complying with the convention. When a government ratifies a convention, itaccepts the procedures it defines, which may include these commitments:to uphold the convention, respecting, promoting, and providing or the rights it establishes,
and not to take any action the treaty prohibits;to change any law in the country that contradicts or does not meet the standards set by the
convention;to be monitored by a designated authority to see that it is, in act, keeping its commitments;
to report at regular intervals on its progress in making these human rights real in the lives o 
its citizens.nce a country ratifies a convention, its citizens have a powerul advocacy tool. ey can hold their gov-ernment accountable i it ails to respect the human rights to which it has committed itsel. For this rea-son citizens need to know which human rights conventions their country has promised to uphold. Forexample, the
Convention on the Rights of the Child
(R) establishes very specific standards or thehumane treatment o children who are detained by police.  cases o mistreatment arise, such as chil-dren being imprisoned with adults, child advocates can demand that the government meet the stan-dards to which it is legally committed.e human rights ramework is dynamic. s the needs o certain groups o people are recognized anddefined and as world events point to the need or awareness and action on specific human rights issues,international human rights law continuously evolves in response. For example, when the Universal ec-laration was written in 14, ew people recognized the dangers o environmental degradation; there-ore this document does not mention the environment. t the beginning o the twenty-first century,

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