What Are Human Rights?

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People have a right to life and liberty. They also have other rights, which allow them to express their views, to get an education and to enjoy property. These rights are called human rights and they are based on the fact that every person is equal in their humanity. Human rights are not just something to be talked about; they are a reality that we live with, and they can be used as tools to overcome injustice.

The idea of human rights grew from earlier tradition and documents, but it was the cataclysmic experiences of World War II that propelled them onto the international stage. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a powerful expression of the hopes, aspirations and protections to which all people are entitled.

This document outlines 30 articles that cover civil and political, economic and social and cultural rights. It shows that human rights are interdependent and indivisible: taking away one right has an impact on the others. All of these rights are essential to our dignity as human beings and they can not be taken away.

It is important for the human rights movement to be a broad-based one and to have the support of people with a variety of political views. It would be difficult for this to happen if the human rights movement is seen as a leftist political program. For that reason, it is best to pursue a strongly egalitarian political program partially within and mostly beyond the human rights framework.

Some critics of the human rights concept argue that human rights are not universal and do not apply to everyone. They argue that standards and values are relative to the culture from which they arise, and so what is a human right in one society may not be a human right in another. This view is often expressed as cultural relativism.

These arguments can be countered by showing that human rights are a universal and basic set of principles that are common to all cultures, societies and historical contexts. Human rights are also shaped by practicalities and constraints that give them their unity, coherence and limits. Griffin describes these as a “second ground” of human rights. They include making the boundaries of rights clear by avoiding “too many complicated bends,” enlarging them slightly to give them safety margins and consulting facts about human nature.

This approach makes it more likely that the principles of human rights will become accepted and enforced by governments. It has resulted in great progress, even though it sometimes seems like a drop in the ocean – the abolition of slavery, women’s voting rights, the banning of the death penalty and the collapse of apartheid, to name just some examples. Every day, people around the world stand up for their human rights and challenge those in power who would violate them. These protests, like drops of water on a rock, wear down the forces of oppression and move us closer to the ideals outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.