Human rights safeguard autonomy and freedom, along with the material conditions for a life of dignity – access to food, work, healthcare and other basic needs. They prevent oppressive and discriminatory behaviour by governments, and drive progress towards fairer, thriving societies. As legal rights, they provide a route for accountability and for change through national courts and international mechanisms. They also facilitate collective action, enabling communities to build narratives based on common values and on duties accepted by states.
Everyone is entitled to the fundamental human rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and they cannot be taken away from anyone voluntarily. They are universal and inalienable, meaning that every person possesses them at birth, regardless of where they live or what their social, cultural or religious background may be. They are also indivisible, meaning that each right is intrinsically linked to the others and no one can be fully enjoyed without the other.
The idea that people have inalienable human rights dates back to ancient times and can be found in many cultures and traditions around the world. Although the idea has been heavily influenced by Western culture, it is not a twentieth century invention. It is therefore important to remember that human rights are not just a matter of international law, they are also a moral imperative and should be viewed as a shared global responsibility by all.
Whether we are talking about the exploitation of children or the abuse of women, we must take action against all forms of violence and discrimination. We must also support the creation of an international legal framework and a system for monitoring and reporting on violations. And, in countries where there is no legal system, we must help build it.
It is vital that we work with governments and civil society to ensure that human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled by all people. Educators are a key group to engage with, and we must continue to provide effective materials and tools for them to use in their teaching and learning.
We must also promote and encourage dialogue amongst all sectors of society. Those who believe in human rights and respect them should seek out and nurture spaces for discussion, and we must work to overcome polarizations and create new alliances.
Lastly, we must remember that the most effective and powerful tool we have in our fight for human rights is our own consciences and actions. The vast majority of people, when shown that a certain act violates another’s dignity, will try to refrain from doing it. The same applies to governments, which, through their acceptance of international human rights treaties, have a legal obligation to respect all human rights.