Protecting human rights is about securing people’s freedom, dignity and self-respect. It is based on the belief that all people have inherent dignity and deserve to be treated equally.
It is about ensuring that rights are respected and upheld by governments, the private sector and civil society. It is also about making sure that people have the opportunity to enjoy their rights, for example by promoting and defending equality and the right to freedom of speech, religion and the press.
There are many ways to protect human rights: at the national, regional and international levels. The UN has an extensive system for protecting human rights at the international level, but there are also regional systems such as the European Union’s Common Consolidated Policy on Human Rights and the Arab League’s Human Rights Commission.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a legal document that sets out the basic human rights to be protected worldwide. This was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 and has become a foundation for all international human rights law.
Human rights are universal and inalienable; indivisible; interdependent and interrelated.
They are also enforceable through the rule of law and legitimate claims for duty-bearers to be accountable to international standards.
We must consider the implications of human rights, not just for individuals, but for communities and the broader social, cultural, economic and political contexts in which they are lived.
In a world where human beings are exposed to the full spectrum of natural, economic, social and political forces that can make life difficult for them, they need protection from all forms of exploitation, oppression, discrimination, persecution and other abuses of power. This is why human rights are a vital part of national and international law.
When people think of human rights they may tend to associate them with particular issues, such as their right to freedom of religion or the right not to be tortured. But they are much broader, encompassing the rights to freedom of speech and expression, a fair trial when charged with a crime, the right not to be raped or abused and the right to work and have a decent living.
This wide scope is reflected in the human rights conventions, treaties and other international legal instruments that have been developed to secure them, and it is important for states to sign up to these legally binding documents.
The UN also has an extensive network of independent non-governmental organizations that monitor and promote human rights. These include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the World Organisation Against Torture.
It is essential that all people have access to these rights, as they are a foundation for democracy and the rule of law.
However, it is important to recognise that these rights are not absolute and may be restricted in certain circumstances. In times of war, for instance, it is common to see some rights suspended or even withdrawn.
We must always remember that protecting human rights is a complex, often ambiguous and sometimes unpopular idea that can be challenged by politicians and governments alike. We must therefore remain patient and persistent in our pursuit of justice.