Human Rights Day: Promise for a better future

Human rights continue to face serious challenges across the globe. Learn more about their basic tenets, and how they can be protected

Updated: Dec 10, 2019 03:01:44 PM UTC
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Human Rights Day is celebrated across the world on December 10. On this day, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. This historic document can be considered as the first major international instrument affirming individual rights. Though this document is not legally binding, its contents have permeated hundreds of international conventions, agreements as well as domestic laws of various countries.

Human rights are considered as certain basic or natural rights, which are inalienable and essential for the development of human personality. They can also be considered as fundamental rights as they cannot be taken away, not even by the government or legislature. Many scholars argue that human rights are not created by any legislation as they are natural rights and the source of human rights is the acceptance of the worth and dignity of the human person. The American Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen and other prominent instruments have incorporated the basics of human rights.

Till the 19th century, human rights were generally regarded as within the internal sphere of national jurisdiction. But during the 20th century, international human rights law started to take shape. There was a gradual consensus between countries that certain wrongs need to be prevented by putting certain international conventions into place. Abolition of slavery, treatment of sick and wounded soldiers, right of humanitarian intervention were certain earlier examples of international human rights law. With the establishment of League of Nations in 1919, development of international human rights law gathered pace with new protections and freedoms being guaranteed under different conventions.

Human rights occupy a pivotal place in the United Nations Charter. The Charter has a number of human rights provisions. Article 1 of the Charter declares the promotion and encouragement of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without any distinction as to race, sex, language or religion. The Charter protects a variety of rights including liberty and security of person, equal protection of law, due process, protection of freedom of movement, freedom of expression, conscience and religion and freedom of assembly.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly three years after the end of World War II. This document declares that all members of the human family have equal and inalienable rights and it is the foundation of peace, justice and freedom in the world. Article I of the declaration declares that ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights'. Arbitrary arrest, detention and exile have been prohibited as well as each person has to the right to an effective remedy by the national courts for acts violating the fundamental rights granted to him by the constitution or by law.

Many international law scholars argue that the very adherence of the tenets of the document by most of the nation states make this document binding as part of the customary international law. Important conventions detailing human rights of individuals have incorporated the basic principles of UDHR as in International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

Protection of human rights is also embedded in our legal system. The constitution of India has various provisions which seek to protect these valuable rights. Most of these rights have been placed under the fundamental rights which are to be safeguarded at any cost by the State and there can be no derogation from it. Article 21 of the Constitution declares that no person can be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law. Courts have interpreted this article in the widest possible sense to guarantee a plethora of human rights. India has also legislated many acts for safeguarding human rights like the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.

Human rights continue to face serious challenges across the globe. Many prominent human right defenders are languishing in jails throughout the world. Minority interests are being gradually diminished across all continents. Various national courts have been putting unnecessary restraints on the public leading to curtailment of its rights. It is in our collective interest that human rights be given widest protection as the United Nations Human Rights Office declares that when any one’s human rights are denied, everyone's rights are undermined.

Rajdeep Banerjee is an advocate and legal consultant and Joyeeta Banerjee is a legal consultant and practicing advocate.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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