Understanding the Nature of Human Rights

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Many people are aware of basic human rights – their right to food, a safe home and the ability to earn money. They also know that all humans have the right to freedom of speech and of religion. However, many people are not fully aware of what human rights actually mean. They are not always clear about the nature of those rights, their limitations and how to protect them. This article seeks to clarify those misconceptions and give readers a better understanding of the nature of human rights, their history and their current status.

Human rights are a set of basic principles that bind all members of the human family together. They are based on the recognition that every individual, as a member of society and as a human being, has certain inherent dignity and value that must be respected. Human rights help to ensure that everyone is treated equally, regardless of who they are, where they live or what they do.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted in 1948, in response to the barbarity that had outraged humankind during World War II, and to prevent those bleak moments from happening again. It outlined that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, and that those rights cannot be taken away except under specific circumstances – such as when they break a law or commit a crime.

It also recognised that rights can only be guaranteed by a system of international rules and laws, with the help of an international body to monitor their compliance. This body, the United Nations, is responsible for promoting and protecting human rights.

Throughout the centuries, philosophers and other thinkers have debated the meaning and significance of human rights. Many have been influenced by ancient Greek and Roman thinking, in particular the philosophy of Stoicism, which held that a person’s behaviour should be judged according to the “laws of nature”.

More recently, philosopher John Rawls proposed a political conception of human rights, based on an examination of the main roles they play in some political sphere, such as international relations or national politics. He called these the “justifying generic functions of rights.”

While he acknowledged that human rights are not necessarily universally applicable, his theory suggested that governments and other duty-bearers would be most likely to respect them. He also argued that those who fail to meet their obligations should be held accountable by the courts or other appropriate bodies.

In the years since the UDHR was established, there has been great progress in the recognition and protection of human rights, but the battle is far from over. It is important that individuals, groups and organisations continue to raise awareness about human rights issues. They can do this through campaigning and by supporting organisations that promote and protect human rights. They can also use their influence to hold governments and other duty-bearers accountable for their adherence to human rights standards.