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What are Human Rights?

By Encyclopaedia Britannica, adapted by Newsela staff on 02.23.17


Word Count 753 Level 790L

Human rights are ideas about what all people need to be safe and free. Many
people agree that human rights come in different forms. One of the most
basic rights is the right to live. The right to believe what one chooses is
another example. Governments grant civil rights in their constitutions and
laws. Human rights, though, are different. They are rights people deserve
just because they are alive. For example, the right to get a drivers license is
a civil right. The freedom to be safe in our own homes is a human right. Some
people believe that God grants human rights. Other people believe they are a
natural part of life.

Human rights cover many different parts of life. Some human rights protect
us from too much government power. These include the right to freedom and
the right to fair treatment under the law. The right not to be put in prison
for no reason is also considered a human right. Human Rights Need
Governments To Provide Support Other human rights need governments to
provide support. They include the right to a free education and the right to
earn a living. There is also the right to have food and a roof over our heads.

Human Rights Need Governments


To Provide Support Other human rights need governments to provide
support. They include the right to a free education and the right to earn a
living. There is also the right to have food and a roof over our heads.
Still other rights require countries to work together. The right to peace and
the right to live in a
clean environment are examples of these. In the past, most people had no
rights. Instead, they
had duties to their rulers. Rulers had the final word about almost
everything. They could take
someone's land or throw them in jail for no reason.
The ancient Greeks and Romans were probably the first people to think
deeply about human
rights. A Roman group called the Stoics believed in something called natural
law. They said
that natural laws gave some rights to everyone, even people who were not
citizens of Rome.

The Enlightenment
In Europe, the 1600s and 1700s were a time known as the Enlightenment.
John Locke of England was an Enlightenment thinker. He wrote that
individual rights are more important than government power. In France,
Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued that the purpose of governments is to
protect individual rights. These were revolutionary ideas. The American
Revolution (177583) and the French Revolution of 1789 grew out of the
Enlightenment. The U.S. Declaration of Independence lists Life, Liberty,
and the pursuit of Happiness as rights that all men get from God. French
philosophers wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
For one of the first times, the rights for individuals were balanced against
the power of government.

Crimes Against Humanity


But even in their new country, many Americans still did not have equal rights.
Slaves had almost no protections. Most slaves in the United States did not
gain the basic human right of freedom until the 1800s. Even then, it took the
U.S. Civil War (186165) to guarantee African Americans their freedom.
Women had only limited freedoms. In most countries they did not gain the
same rights as men until the 1900s. In the United States, women did not win
the right to vote until about 100 years ago.

World War II (193945) brought much more attention to the cause of


human rights. After the war, the world learned that Nazi Germany had killed
millions of Jews and other innocent people. This horrible crime is
remembered as the Holocaust. An international trial was held that put Nazi
leaders on trial for crimes against humanity. The Holocaust convinced many
countries that more needed to be done to protect people's basic rights
around the world. In 1945, dozens of countries formed an organization called
the United Nations (UN). In 1948 the UN issued the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights. This document lists many different rights. Today, the
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
investigates abuses of human rights around the world. It works with other
UN groups to try to protect the rights of men, women and children
everywhere