Human Rights and Young People

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human rights

The notion of human rights has become one of the most widely accepted principles in the world, endorsed almost universally by civilised governments and major religions. The basic idea is that people have certain minimum requirements for their dignity and it would be wrong to deny them these rights – and so it is important that they are protected by the rule of law, and that citizens can make legitimate claims for these rights to be enforced against governments who fail in their duty to uphold them.

The key values that are at the heart of human rights are those of human dignity and equality. It is this belief that underpins the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted 70 years ago this year. Its guiding principles are that all humans are born free and equal in dignity and worth, and that they are entitled to the highest standard of living necessary for their full development as human beings. That is why the UDHR lists 30 political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights which should be enjoyed by every person, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, language, disability, religion or belief, sexual orientation or any other aspect of identity. These rights are inalienable and indivisible, and all of them are interdependent and interrelated; the enjoyment of any one of them depends on the enjoyment of other rights.

There are no absolute answers to the questions about how these rights should be balanced – but some of them are more clearly defined than others. For example, the right to freedom of speech can be limited to prevent it inciting hatred or promoting violence and there are no excuses for torture, which is always a violation of the human rights to life and liberty.

These issues have not always been settled by clear-cut arguments, as is the case for many other questions about human rights. This is an indication both of the fact that these are complex issues and also that human rights are not a’science’, but a developing area of moral thought.

For this reason, it is important that young people understand that human rights organisations – both professional NGOs and spontaneous grass roots movements – need their support. Many of them may not explicitly state that they are working on human rights but they will be, whether they realise it or not, defending the rights of those who are suffering and in need.

There have been great improvements in the protection of human rights since the UDHR was adopted – from the abolition of slavery and women’s suffrage, to the death penalty being abolished in most countries and the release of prisoners of conscience as a result of international pressure. However, the pace of change is sometimes slow and some people and governments still violate these rights. This is a serious matter, and outside intervention needs to be used to stop these violations taking place. The protection of human rights is a global responsibility.