Human rights are commonly understood as “inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being.” Human rights are thus conceived as universal (applicable everywhere) and egalitarian (the same for everyone). These rights may exist as natural rights or as legal rights , in both national and international law . The doctrine of human rights in international practice, within international law, global and regional institutions, in the policies of states and in the activities of non-governmental organizations, has been a cornerstone of public policy around the world. The idea of human rightsstates, “if the public discourse of peacetime global society can be said to have a common moral language, it is that of human rights.” Despite this, the strong claims made by the doctrine of human rights continue to provoke considerable skepticism and debates about the content, nature and justifications of human rights to this day. Indeed, the question of what is meant by a “right” is itself controversial and the subject of continued philosophical debate.
Many of the basic ideas that animated the human rights movement developed in the aftermath of the Second World War and the atrocities of The Holocaust, culminating in the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Paris by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. The ancient world did not possess the concept of universal human rights. Ancient societies had “elaborate systems of duties… conceptions of justice, political legitimacy, and human flourishing that sought to realize human dignity, flourishing, or well-being entirely independent of human rights”. The modern concept of human rights developed during the early Modern period, alongside the European secularization of Judeo-Christian ethics. The true forerunner of human rights discourse was the concept of natural rights which appeared as part of the medieval Natural law tradition that became prominent during the Enlightenment with such philosophers as John Locke, Francis Hutcheson, and Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui, and featured prominently in the political discourse of the American Revolution and the French Revolution.
From this foundation, the modern human rights arguments emerged over the latter half of the twentieth century. Gelling as social activism and political rhetoric in many nations put it high on the world agenda. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. Article 1 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) INTERDEPENDENT AND INDIVISIBLE All human rights are indivisible, whether they are civil and political rights, such as the right to life, equality before the law and freedom of expression; economic, social and cultural rights, such as the rights to work, social security and education, or collective rights, such as the rights to development and self-determination, are indivisible, interrelated and interdependent. The improvement of one right facilitates advancement of the others. Likewise, the deprivation of one right adversely affects the others. History of concept Main article: History of human rights
The modern sense of human rights can be traced to Renaissance Europe and the Protestant Reformation, alongside the disappearance of the feudal authoritarianism and religious conservativism that dominated the Middle Ages. Human rights were defined as a result of European scholars attempting to form a “secularized version of Judeo-Christian ethics”. Although ideas of rights and liberty have existed in some form for much of human history, they do not resemble the modern conception of human rights. According to Jack Donnelly, in the ancient world, “traditional societies typically have had elaborate systems of duties… conceptions of justice, political legitimacy, and human flourishing that sought to realize human dignity, flourishing, or well-being entirely independent of human rights. These institutions and practices are alternative to, rather than different formulations of, human rights”. The most commonly held view is that concept of human rights evolved in the West, and that while earlier cultures had important ethical concepts, they generally lacked a concept of human rights. For example, McIntyre argues there is no word for “right” in any language before 1400. Medieval charters of liberty such as the English Magna Carta were not charters of human rights, rather they were the foundation  and constituted a form of limited political and legal agreement to address specific political circumstances, in the case of Magna Carta later being recognised in the course of early modern debates about rights. One of the oldest records of human rights is the statute of Kalisz (1264), giving privileges to the Jewish minority in the Kingdom of Poland such as protection from discrimination and hate speech. The basis of most modern legal interpretations of human rights can be traced back to recent European history. The Twelve Articles (1525) are considered to be the first record of human rights in Europe. They were part of the peasants’ demands raised towards the Swabian League in the German Peasants’ War in Germany.
The earliest conceptualization of human rights is credited to ideas about natural rightsemanating from natural law. In particular, the issue of universal rights was introduced by the examination of the rights of indigenous peoples by Spanish clerics, such as Francisco de Vitoria and Bartolomé de Las Casas. In the Valladolid debate, Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, who maintained an Aristotelian view of humanity as divided into classes of different worth, argued with Las Casas, who argued in favor of equal rights to freedom of slavery for all humans regardless of race or religion. In Britain in 1683, the English Bill of Rights (or “An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown”) and the Scottish Claim of Right each made illegal a range of oppressive governmental actions. Two major revolutions occurred during the 18th century, in the United States (1776) and in France (1789), leading to the adoption of the United States Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen respectively, both of which established certain legal rights. Additionally, the Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776 encoded into law a number of fundamental civil rightsand civil freedoms. Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen approved by the National Assembly of France, August 26, 1789.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness—United States Declaration of Independence, 1776 These were followed by developments in philosophy of human rights by philosophers such as Thomas Paine, John Stuart Mill and G.W.F. Hegel during the 18th and 19th centuries. The term human rights probably came into use some time between Paine’s The Rights of Man and William Lloyd Garrison’s 1831 writings in The Liberator, in which he stated that he was trying to enlist his readers in “the great cause of human rights”.
In the 19th century, human rights became a central concern over the issue of slavery. A number of reformers, such as William Wilberforce in Britain, worked towards theabolition of slavery. This was achieved in the British Empire by the Slave Trade Act 1807 and the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. In the United States, all the northern states had abolished the institution of slavery between 1777 and 1804, although southern states clung tightly to the “peculiar institution”. Conflict and debates over the expansion of slavery to new territories constituted one of the reasons for the southern states’ secession and the American Civil War. During the reconstruction period immediately following the war, several amendments to the United States Constitution were made. These included the 13th amendment, banning slavery, the 14th amendment, assuring full citizenship and civil rights to all people born in the United States, and the 15th amendment, guaranteeing African Americans the right to vote. Many groups and movements have achieved profound social changes over the course of the 20th century in the name of human rights. In Europe and North America, labour unions brought about laws granting workers the right to strike, establishing minimum work conditions and forbidding or regulating child labor. The women’s rights movement succeeded in gaining for many women the right to vote. National liberation movements in many countries succeeded in driving out colonial powers. One of the most influential was Mahatma Gandhi’s movement to free his native India from British rule. Movements by long-oppressed racial and religious minorities succeeded in many parts of the world, among them the African American Civil Rights Movement, and more recent diverse identity politics movements, on behalf of women and minorities in the United States. The establishment of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the 1864 Lieber Code and the first of the Geneva Conventions in 1864 laid the foundations of International humanitarian law, to be further developed following the two World Wars. The World Wars, and the huge losses of life and gross abuses of human rights that took place during them, were a driving force behind the development of modern human rights instruments. The League of Nations was established in 1919 at the negotiations over the Treaty of Versailles following the end of World War I. The League’s goals included disarmament, preventing war through collective security, settling disputes between countries through negotiation and diplomacy, and improving global welfare. Enshrined in its charter was a mandate to promote many of the rights later included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At the 1945 Yalta Conference, the Allied Powers agreed to create a new body to supplant the League’s role; this was to be the United Nations. The United Nations has played an important role in international human-rights law since its creation. Following the World Wars, the United Nations and its members developed much of the discourse and the bodies of law that now make up international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Philosophy Main article: Philosophy of human rights The philosophy of human rights attempts to examine the underlying basis of the concept of human rights and critically looks at its content and justification. Several theoretical approaches have been advanced to explain how and why human rights have become a part of social expectations.
One of the oldest Western philosophies of human rights is that they are a product of a natural law, stemming from different philosophical or religious grounds. Other theories hold that human rights codify moral behavior which is a human social product developed by a process of biological and social evolution (associated with Hume). Human rights are also described as a sociological pattern of rule setting (as in the sociological theory of law and the work of Weber). These approaches include the notion that individuals in a society accept rules from legitimate authority in exchange for security and economic advantage (as in Rawls) – a social contract. The two theories that dominate contemporary human rights discussion are the interest theory and the will theory. Interest theory argues that the principal function of human rights is to protect and promote certain essential human interests, while will theory attempts to establish the validity of human rights based on the unique human capacity for freedom.
Criticisms The strong claims made by human rights to universality have led to persistent criticism. Philosophers who have criticized the concept of human rights include Jeremy Bentham,Edmund Burke, Friedrich Nietzsche and Karl Marx. Political philosophy professor Charles Blattberg argues that discussion of human rights, being abstract, demotivates people from upholding the values that rights are meant to affirm. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy gives particular attention to two types of criticisms: the one questioning universality of human rights and the one denying them objective ground. Alain Pellet, an international law scholar, criticizes “human rightism” approach as denying the principle of sovereignty and claiming a special place for human rights among the branches of international law; Alain de Benoist questions human rights premises of human equality. David Kennedy had listed pragmatic worries and polemical charges concerning human rights in 2002 in Harvard Human Rights Journal.
Classification Human rights can be classified and organized in a number of different ways, at an international level the most common categorisation of human rights has been to split them into civil and political rights, and economic, social and cultural rights. Civil and political rights are enshrined in articles 3 to 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR). Economic, social and cultural rights are enshrined in articles 22 to 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
Indivisibility A. UDHR included both economic, social and cultural rights and civil and political rights because it was based on the principle that the different rights could only successfully exist in combination: The ideal of free human beings enjoying civil and political freedom and freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his civil and political rights, as well as his social, economic and cultural rights.
—International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, 1966 This is held to be true because without civil and political rights the public cannot assert their economic, social and cultural rights. Similarly, without livelihoods and a working society, the public cannot assert or make use of civil or political rights (known as the full belly thesis).
The indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights has been confirmed by the 1993 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action:
All human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and related. The international community must treat human rights globally in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing, and with the same emphasis.
—Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, World Conference on Human Rights, 1993
This statement was again endorsed at the 2005 World Summit in New York (paragraph 121).
Although accepted by the signatories to the UDHR, most do not in practice give equal weight to the different types of rights. Some Western cultures have often given priority to civil and political rights, sometimes at the expense of economic and social rights such as the right to work, to education, health and housing. Similarly the ex Soviet bloc countries and Asian countries have tended to give priority to economic, social and cultural rights, but have often failed to provide civil and political rights.
Categorization Opponents of the indivisibility of human rights argue that economic, social and cultural rights are fundamentally different from civil and political rights and require completely different approaches. Economic, social and cultural rights are argued to be: positive, meaning that they require active provision of entitlements by the state (as opposed to the state being required only to prevent the breach of rights) resource-intensive, meaning that they are expensive and difficult to provide progressive, meaning that they will take significant time to implement vague, meaning they cannot be quantitatively measured, and whether they are adequately provided or not is difficult to judge ideologically divisive/political, meaning that there is no consensus on what should and shouldn’t be provided as a right socialist, as opposed to capitalist non-justiciable, meaning that their provision, or the breach of them, cannot be judged in a court of law aspirations or goals, as opposed to real ‘legal’ rights Similarly civil and political rights are categorized as: negative, meaning the state can protect them simply by taking no action cost-free non-ideological/non-political capitalist justiciable justiciable real ‘legal’ rights
Regional human rights regimes Main article: Regional human rights regimes International human rights regime’s are in several cases “nested” within more comprehensive and overlapping regional agreements. These regional regimes can be seen as relatively independently coherent human rights sub-regimes. Three principle regional human rights instruments can be identified, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights (the Americas) and the European Convention on Human Rights. The European Convention on Human Rights has since 1950 defined and guaranteed human rights and fundamental freedoms in Europe. All 47 member states of the Council of Europe have signed the Convention and are therefore under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.