What Are Human Rights?

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Human rights are moral and legal entitlements that people have simply because of their membership of the human species. They are universal, inalienable and interdependent, meaning that people cannot enjoy one of them without all the others. They are guaranteed by international treaties and laws that signatory governments agree to respect, which also imposes a legal duty to honour them.

There are many different arguments about what constitutes a human right, with some of the most widely accepted being:

Some scholars of human rights have held that all humans have innate natural rights, such as those embodied in the famous quote, “all men are created equal.” This view is known as the Natural Law Theory and has been influential in many countries and cultures over centuries.

Other scholars have argued that human rights are justified by normative agency. Griffin, for example, has proposed that all human rights derive from the need to protect certain aspects of normative agency, such as autonomy and freedom. This is a controversial argument, and much of the literature surrounding it revolves around whether it can provide enough justification for human rights in order to prevent them from being over-abused.

Nevertheless, most academics accept that human rights are not only justifiable but also crucial in providing the protection and incentives that encourage societies to be fair and free of oppression. For instance, the principle of equality enshrined in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that every person is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their race, gender, religion, sex, political affiliation or any other distinguishing feature. This includes the right to equality in economic, social and cultural spheres.

Many of the specific human rights enshrined in the United Nations Charter are also grounded in this doctrine. The most important of these include the right to a standard of living that is sufficient for people to live happy, healthy and fulfilling lives. This includes the right to food, housing, medical care and education.

It is also argued that people have the right to work for wages that are high enough to allow them to meet their financial obligations and to enjoy some leisure time. Moreover, people have the right to join trade unions, which are groups that represent employees in particular fields and protect their interests, such as the right to safe working conditions and decent pay.

It should be noted, however, that even in the most established democracies, people are not immune to human rights violations. For instance, Levan Francis, a BC Corrections officer at the North Fraser Pre-Trial Centre, filed a human rights complaint after alleging that his employer treated him with hostility because of his race. This, according to his complaint, violated his right to freedom of expression and association. Moreover, it can be argued that people’s freedom of movement may be taken away temporarily or permanently if they are convicted of serious crimes such as murder.