International Dimensions of Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) sets out a list of thirty specific human rights articles that countries should respect and protect. These specific rights can be divided into six or more families: security rights that protect people against crimes such as murder, massacre, torture, and rape; due process rights that protect against abuses of the legal system such as imprisonment without trial, secret trials, and excessive punishments; liberty rights that protect freedoms in areas such as belief, expression, association, assembly, and movement; political rights that protect the liberty to participate in politics through actions such as communicating, assembling, protesting, voting, and serving in public office; equality rights that guarantee equal citizenship, equality before the law, and nondiscrimination; and social (or “welfare”) rights that require provision of education to all children and protections against severe poverty and starvation. Another family that might be included is group rights. The Universal Declaration does not include group rights, but subsequent treaties do. Group rights include protections of ethnic groups against genocide and the ownership by countries of their national territories and resources.

Modern international conceptions of human rights can be traced to the aftermath of World War II and the foundation of the United Nations. Article 1(3) of the United Nations charter set out one of the purposes of the UN is to: “[t]o achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion”.

The Geneva Conventions came into being between 1864 and 1949 as a result of efforts by Henry Dunant, the founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross. The conventions safeguard the human rights of individuals involved in armed conflict, and build on the 1899 and 1907 Hague Conventions, the international community’s first attempt to formalize the laws of war and war crimes in the nascent body of secular international law. The conventions were revised as a result of World War II and readopted by the international community in 1949.

Events and new possibilities can affect existing rights or require new ones. Advances of technology, medicine, and philosophy constantly challenge the human rights thinking. The following rights are being currently debated at various international for as some of them may even come in conflict with the basic human rights:

  • Environmental rights
  • Future generations’ rights
  • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) rights
  • Trade
  • Water
  • Crime and Punishment
  • Fetal rights
  • Reproductive rights
  • Medicine
  • Points to Ponder

The facts and figures relating to the state of Human Rights, especially in poor and developing countries, are disturbing and call for action at all levels. For example,

  • 855,000,000 people in the world are illiterate. 70% of them are female.
  • Two-thirds of the world’s children who receive less than four years of education are girls.
  • For every year beyond fourth grade that girls go to school, family size drops 20%, child deaths drop 10%, and wages rise 20%; yet, international aid dedicated to education is declining.
  • Worldwide, more than half the population of women over age 15 cannot read or write.
  • Girls represent nearly 60% of the children not in school.
  • 600,000 women — one every minute — die each year from pregnancy-related causes. Most of these deaths are preventable.
  • In some countries, the HIV/AIDS infection rates for 15- to 19-year old girls are 3 to 6 times higher than for boys.
  • Every day 7000 young persons are infected with HIV/AIDS.
  • Where women do the same work as men, they are paid 30 to 40 percent less than men.
  • Worldwide, women’s work in the home is not counted as work.
  • There are approximately 250 million child labourers worldwide: Asia accounts for 153 million and Africa for 80 million.
  • 75% of the refugees and internally displaced in the world are women who have lost their families and their homes.
  • for every $1 spent on development assistance $10 is spent on military budgets.
  • Violence against women and girls is the most pervasive violation of human rights in the world today.
  • More than 1 million children, mostly girls, are forced into prostitution every year.