- Human beings have rights inherent to their existence that protect them from abuses of power.
- Human rights as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights exist in universal, inalienable, indivisible, interdependent, and non-discriminatory ways.
- A strong democracy requires the protection of human rights in order to function.
Defining Human Rights
Human rights are inherent to all human beings and serve as norms to safeguard against political, legal, or social abuses.1 These rights are often referred to as being universal, inalienable, indivisible, interdependent, and non-discriminatory.2 Human rights are not constrained by borders or specific entities and can only be revoked under due process of law. Furthermore, an individual cannot experience one type of right without also experiencing the others. The non discriminatory nature of human rights lays out explicitly that they protect the dignity of all individuals within society, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status they may hold. These rights set minimum expectations for how people should live under government rule and among their fellow citizens.3 Examples of Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and numerous others.
The History and Enforcement of Human Rights
The nature of human rights presents challenges in legal implementation and protection. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, stands as the first document safeguarding human rights universally.4 It outlines the responsibilities of governments in respecting, protecting, and ensuring the fulfillment of basic human rights. The document contains 30 articles that serve as the building blocks for all international human rights law.5 These obligations include non-interference with rights, active protection of rights, and facilitating citizens’ access to their rights.6
Human Rights in a Democracy
Democracy as a theory of government provides a “universal benchmark”7 for the protection of human rights. For democratic systems to function, individuals must be able to fully exercise human rights to legitimately participate in democratic processes such as free and fair elections. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”8 Democracy builds on this foundation in an effort to realize a free, just, and peaceful world.9
1 James Nickel, “Human Rights,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Stanford University, April 11, 2019), https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rights-human/.
2 “What Are Human Rights?,” OHCHR. https://www.ohchr.org/en/what-are-human-rights.
3 “What Are Human Rights?,” UNICEF. https://www.unicef.org/child-rights-convention/what-are-human-rights.
4 “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” United Nations (United Nations). https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights.
5 “Human Rights,” United Nations (United Nations). https://www.un.org/en/global-issues/human-rights.
6 “What Are Human Rights?,” OHCHR. https://www.ohchr.org/en/what-are-human-rights.
7 “About Democracy and Human Rights,” OHCHR, accessed September 25, 2022, https://www.ohchr.org/en/about-democracy-and-human-rights.
8 “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” United Nations (United Nations). https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights.