June 29, 2011

Human Rights

Human Rights History Documentary Video

Human Rights is a term that is used a lot in the media and in politics, but unlike other phrases of this sort, it has a lot of real life implications on every one of us.  Equality and Human rights are entwined together, for equality to exist we need Human Rights and Human Rights is underpinned by equality.

Human Rights are based on the premise that all people have the basic rights to be equal.  All humans have the right to respect.  Human rights are a fundamental part of our existence.  We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.

Human rights are:

  • Inherent – we are all born with them regardless of what labels we are given
  • Universal – every single person on the globe has them as we are born with them
  • Inalienable – we cannot trade them, give them away or exchange them

Human Rights and the ideas that lie behind them has a long history dating back hundreds of years, after the second world war they were encoded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Just by reading the preamble the power and the majesty of this document can be sensed.

PREAMBLE to the UN Universal declaration of Human Rights 1948

Whereas 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,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people, Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort,
to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law, Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations, Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in
fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom, Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms, Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge, Now,
Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

Rights into Practice

This preamble is full of grand aspirations.  To make these aspirations real we need to be able to translate them into actions and behaviours.  It is only by animating the words into a way of life for states, societies and individually that we will realise the true
power of human rights.

The opposite also holds true if we ignore the aspirations or let them remain just words on a page their power will be lost.   If this happens we will all feel the consequences.  It is our duty to promote the understanding and ensure that these words are brought to life and evidenced in our actions.

Human Rights Act 1998

In 1998 in the UK following on from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights 1950 we
have the UK Human Rights act of 1998.

The Human Rights Act 1998, which came into force on 2 October 2000, created new rights for UK citizens against public authorities. Since then, all existing UK laws have had to be interpreted in line with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Although Convention rights cannot be used directly against private bodies, they still have an indirect impact through the Human Rights Act because courts and tribunals have to interpret the law consistently with the Convention as far as possible.

Each case judged on its merits, but the overall scope of the right not narrowed by a qualification in a particular case. The qualification merely applies in respect of the individual circumstances of that case.

Not of all of the rights are treated the same and the rights can be divided into three categories:

  • Absolute Rights
  • Limited Rights
  • Qualified Rights

Absolute Rights are those Rights which do not contain limiting provisions on the exercise of that right, although they are effectively delimited by the court in the process of judicial interpretation, e.g. the rights contained in Article 3 (protection from torture, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment)

Limited Rights are Rights which contain in their terms limitations, but only to the extent of the circumstances explicitly delineated in the Convention, e.g. Article 5 (right to liberty) falls into this category

Qualified Rights are Convention Rights whose application is qualified in line with certain criteria, e.g. where it is argued that a qualification is required in order to meet an aim set out in the Convention, e.g. public safety. Article 8 (right to private and family life) is a qualified right.

The following is a summary of the rights (for more information go to Ministry of Justice website)

The right to life – protects your life, by law. The state is required to investigate suspicious deaths and deaths in custody.

The prohibition of torture and inhuman treatment – you should never be tortured or treated in an inhuman or degrading way, no matter what the situation.

Protection against slavery and forced labour – you should not be treated like a slave or subjected to forced labour.

The right to liberty and freedom – you have the right to be free and the state can only imprison you with very good reason – for example, if you are convicted of a crime.

The right to a fair trial and no punishment without law – you are innocent until proven guilty. If accused of a crime, you have the right to hear the evidence against you, in a court of law.

Respect for privacy and family life and the right to marry – protects against unnecessary surveillance or intrusion into your life. You have the right to marry and raise a family.

Freedom of thought, religion and belief – you can believe what you like and practise your religion or beliefs.

Free speech and peaceful protest – you have a right to speak freely and join with others peacefully, to express your views.

No discrimination – everyone’s rights are equal. You should not be treated unfairly – because, for example, of your gender, race, sexuality,
religion or age.

Protection of property, the right to an education and the right to free elections – protects against state interference with your
possessions; means that no child can be denied an education and that election must be free and fair.

For a guide on the Human Rights Act 1998 please go to the Ministry of Justice site.