Human Rights

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

Page 305

Basic rights that fundamentally and inherently belong to each individual.

Human rights are freedoms established by custom or international agreement that impose standards of conduct on all nations. Human rights are distinct from civil liberties, which are freedoms established by the law of a particular state and applied by that state in its own jurisdiction.

Specific human rights include the right to personal liberty and DUE PROCESS OF LAW; to freedom of thought, expression, religion, organization, and movement; to freedom from discrimination on the basis of race, religion, age, language, and sex; to basic education; to employment; and to property. Human rights laws have been defined by international conventions, by treaties, and by organizations, particularly the UNITED NATIONS. These laws prohibit practices such as torture, SLAVERY, summary execution without trial, and ARBITRARY detention or exile.

History

Modern human rights law developed out of customs and theories that established the rights of the individual in relation to the state. These rights were expressed in legal terms in documents such as the English Bill of Rights of 1688, the U.S. Declaration of Independence of 1776, the U.S. Bill of Rights added to the U.S. Constitution in 1789, and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen added to the French Constitution in 1791.

Human rights law also grew out of earlier systems of INTERNATIONAL LAW. These systems, developed largely during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, were predicated on the doctrine of national sovereignty, according to which each nation retains sole power over its internal affairs without interference from other nations. As a result, early international law involved only relations between nation-states and was not concerned with the ways in which states treated their own citizens.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the notion of national sovereignty came under increasing challenge, and reformers began to press for international humanitarian standards. In special conferences such as the Hague Conference of 1899 and 1907, nations created laws governing the conduct of wars and handling of prisoners.

Not until after WORLD WAR II (1939?45) did the international community create international treaties establishing human rights standards. The United Nations, created in 1945, took the lead in this effort. In its charter, or founding document, the United Nations developed objectives for worldwide human rights standards. It called for equal rights and self-determination for all peoples, as well as "universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion" (art. 55). The UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in...

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