Introduction to Human Rights

Human Rights


Human rights constitute a set of rules governing the treatment of individuals and groups by governments on the basis of ethical principles.  States have incorporated these rules into their national and international laws.  The formal expression of inherent human rights is through international human rights law.  A series of international treaties and other instruments have emerged since 1945 conferring legal form on inherent human rights. The key international instruments include:

  1. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
  2. United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
  3. Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
  4. Convention on the Rights of the Child
  5. Slavery Convention
  6. Abolition of Forced Labour Convention
  7. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

Other instruments are in place at a regional level reflecting the particular human rights concerns of the region. The key ones in Africa include:

  1. The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights
  2. The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child

Most States have also adopted constitutions and other laws which formally protect basic human rights. The obligation to protect, promote and ensure the enjoyment of human rights is the prime responsibility of States.

Classification of Human Rights

(a) Civil Rights

Civil rights protect one’s freedom from infringement by governments, social organizations, and private individuals. They ensure your entitlement to participate in the civil life of society and the state without discrimination or repression. Civil rights include:

  1. Right to life
  2. Right to safety
  3. Protection from discrimination on grounds such as race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, colour, age, political affiliation, ethnicity, religion, and disability
  4. Right to privacy
  5. Freedom of thought
  6. Freedom of speech
  7. Freedom of religion
  8. Freedom of press
  9. Freedom of movement
(b) Political Rights

Political rights protect individuals’ freedom to participate in the governance of their society/state without discrimination or repression. Political rights include:

  1. Rights of the accused
  2. Right to a fair trial
  3. Due process
  4. Right to seek redress or a legal remedy
  5. Freedom of association
  6. Freedom of assembly
  7. Right to petition
  8. Right of self-defence
  9. Right to vote
(c) Economic Rights

These are rights that allow an individual to have economic freedom and provide for him/herself and his/her family. They include:

  1. Right to an adequate standard of living
  2. Free choice of employment
  3. Protection against unemployment
  4. Just and favourable remuneration
  5. Right to form and join trade unions
  6. Reasonable limitation of working hours
(d) Social Rights

Social rights often deal with the allocation and distribution of resources. The government protects them to ensure the fulfilment of basic needs like sustenance, housing, education, health and a clean and healthy environment. However, social rights are primarily private rights requiring government intervention and sacrifice, rather than a negative right (e.g., civil and political rights) that implicates government inaction.

(e) Cultural Rights

Cultural rights aim at assuring the enjoyment of culture and its components in conditions of equality, human dignity and non-discrimination. The objective of these rights is to guarantee that people and communities have access to culture and can participate in the culture of their selection. They include:

  1. Rights to language
  2. Cultural and artistic production
  3. Participation in cultural life
  4. Cultural heritage
  5. Intellectual property rights including traditional knowledge
  6. Rights of minorities

Fundamental Concepts in Human Rights

The UDHR articulates the fundamental human rights concepts. The principles are:

(a) Universality

The principle of universality of human rights means that we are all equally entitled to our human rights. All people everywhere in the world are entitled to them. This principle is emphasized in Article 1 of the UDHR, which states; 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.

(b) Inalienability

Inalienability means that nobody can take away your human rights. Nobody can take them away, except in specific situations and in according to due process. For example, the state may restrict the right to liberty if a court of law finds a person guilty of a crime. These include freedom from torture and cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, freedom from slavery or servitude, the right to a fair trial and the right to an order of habeas corpus (producing an arrested person before a court).

(c) Indivisibility

This means that one set of rights cannot be enjoyed fully without the other. Consequently, all human rights have equal status, and cannot be positioned in a hierarchical order. Denial of one right invariably impedes enjoyment of other rights.

(d) Equality and Non-Discrimination

This concept ensures that all individuals are equal as human beings. Article 2 of the UDHR states that; everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Author: DidiWamukoya

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