We hear often about human rights recently, but what are they? Human rights are the basic rights that every human possesses just by the virtue of being born! Human rights were first born in 539 BC when Cyrus the great, the first ancient Persian king, after conquering Babylon, committed a revolutionary act by freeing all the slaves and announcing everyone to be free to choose their religion and enjoy other radical equalities. These decrees were recorded on a clay now called the Cyrus Cylinder, which is kept in British museum currently. After that for about 2500 years, with civil wars, various nations: British, French and Americans created different declarations of human rights.
It was not until after the atrocities that took place during the Second World War, to protect future generations, that the United Nations produced the first human rights act called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 1948. This document pointed out, in details, fundamental rights referring to concepts such as various rights, equality, freedom of choice and dignity all through the document.
Human rights included in the UDHR cover various types such as right to life, right to education, work, marriage travel and more.
Until recently, if the citizens of the UK felt their human rights were neglected they had to complain to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, but after the introduction of 1998 Human Rights Act, dealing with human rights of the citizens of every country were assigned to their local courts as a part of their domestic law.
Let’s not forget that human rights are universal, applicable to all (i.e. we cannot deny a person his / her rights if we don’t like them!) and they are applicable in their entirety (i.e. we cannot apply only parts of the rights).
UDHR is constructed from 30 articles, where Human Rights Act consists of 20 articles in addition to orders and more. Almost all of these articles promote a right for all human beings regardless of their gender, race, age, nationality or any other restrictions.
It is important to realise that human rights are not there, as some are led to believe, to protect rights of criminals or terrorists! Everyone’s rights of: not being abused in employment; not being tortured or treated inhumanely; having the freedom to choose their religion and political belief; not being discriminated in any settings; having the right to a fair trial; having the freedom to choose the spouse they wish to marry; having the right to have respect for their private family life and perhaps more important than them all, right to life, are all there, only thanks to the above mentioned human rights articles.
It has taken over 2500 years to establish these precious rights, admittedly without much enforcement power behind them by any organisation and that is why we all have the responsibility to protect them, if we don’t wish to go back to the days of 540 BCof barbarism.
‘Individual freedoms and rights matter a great deal, but people are restricted in what they do with that freedom if they are poor, ill, illiterate, discriminated against, threatened by violent conflict or denied a political voice’ (UNDP, 2005:18)