This article is written by Ms Sushree Surekha Choudhury from KIIT School of Law. The article gives a descriptive overview of the international human rights laws through the lens of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
It has been published by Rachit Garg.
We all have access to education, employment opportunities, healthcare facilities, and probably something as basic yet important as the right to rest and relax. Right? Can you imagine this – your child is denied an education because of the religion you belong to? Or, your boss fires you because you are a woman, even though you are efficient at your work. Or, you wake up tomorrow and the police arrest you for no fault of yours and without informing you of any reason. You must be thinking of a basic answer to these assumptions, that if they happened to me tomorrow, I would resort to legal remedies and seek justice. Seems simple, no?
But it was not so simple a few decades ago. People were tortured, hurt, and exploited. They had no rights or freedoms and were exposed and some were even forced into slavery. And the worst part was that the law did not help them. There was no legal remedy because there were no laws or legislation protecting people against these inhuman activities. They occurred in broad daylight. Most of the time, they were committed by the government itself. Sounds like a pathetic time to be alive, no?
It was in the year 1948 that the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to guarantee basic human rights to people globally. It had a hard task to do and objectives to fulfil. We shall read in this article how and when all of these started and developed over time.
An insight into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Eleanor Roosevelt, then Chairman of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, referred to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as the Maga Carta of humanity. The UDHR was adopted as the primary document for international human rights law in 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly. John Humphrey, a legal professor from Canada, was considered to be the first author of the UDHR. Even so, the UDHR now belongs to the UN and is regarded as a universal code for human rights. Other notable names in the drafting council for the UDHR were Eleanor Roosevelt, Chang Peng-Chun (a playwright, philosopher, and diplomat from China), and Charles Habib Malik (philosopher and diplomat from Lebanon). The Second World War saw excruciating human rights violations. Hitler’s torture of Jews and the Nazi genocide were a big reason for feeling the need to have human rights laws and an international body dealing with it. The United Nations was formed in 1945, and the UDHR followed in 1948. It was established with two primary goals: to ensure the dignity of life for all human beings and to promote non-discrimination.
History behind the formation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
After World War II, the need for the formation of the UN was at its peak. It was during the UN Charters that the leaders and observers proposed a Bill of human rights. It was introduced for the first time in the UN General Assembly’s first session in 1946, after its establishment in 1945. The Bill was named the Declaration of Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms. The UN General Assembly referred the Bill for consideration to the UN Economic and Social Council. The Council was entrusted with preparing an international Bill of Rights. The Council used this draft in its first session to formulate the international Bill of Rights in 1947. This was then regarded as the preliminary draft of the “International Bill of Human Rights.” Thereafter, eight members from different states were entrusted with preparing the draft further.
The Commission on Human Rights was entrusted with formulating the Declaration. It consisted of 18 members, including Roosevelt and others. René Cassin delivered the final draft to the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland. The draft came to be popularly known as the Geneva Draft, and it was sent to the member states to record their opinions. In 1948, the Draft was finalized and proposed in the General Assembly. 50 member states participated in the drafting and finalizing. On December 10, 1948, the UN General Assembly in Paris adopted the final draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights via its resolution 217 A (III). All the participating member states voted in favour of the resolution, except for 8, which abstained from voting. The UDHR was prepared and finalized within a period of two years, and in a politically divided world, it became a common ground of unification for the world.
The UDHR developed through the following timeline:
|1215||Magna Carta was signed in the UK, which for the first time gave rights to people and required the ruler to respect those rights. Many laws and regulations that came after this took their ideology and inspiration from the Magna Carta.|
|1689||John Locke spoke about natural law and its theories. He put the rights to life, liberty, and property within the ambit of natural rights. These natural right theories are the basis of the modern-day UDHR.|
|1791||The US Bill of Rights was passed, which included 10 Constitutional Amendments before passing the US Constitution. These amendments empowered people with rights like the right to a fair trial, freedom of speech, expression, etc.|
|1914||World War I began.|
|1915||1.5 million Americans were killed in the Turkish genocide of Americans. People had no rights. They were killed and tortured relentlessly.|
|1919||World War I ended with the Treaty of Versailles.|
|1939||World War II had already begun. During this time, the Holocaust was experienced, which became the primary factor for the formation of the UDHR.|
|1945||The League of Nations, formed during World War I, failed. The articulation of the term “United Nations” begins. The formation of the UN was a major step in international law and justice. It marked the beginning of many crucial events and laws, including the human rights law.|
|Oct. 1945||The United Nations is formed. World War II ends and the Nazi concentration camps are liberated.|
|1946||The UN forms the Commission on Human Rights. Eleanor Roosevelt was made Chairperson. The Commission on Human Rights was formed as the need for having international laws on human rights was clearly evident from the incidents during wars.|
|1948||The Commission on Human Rights drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, after sessions of debates and discussions, the final draft was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948.|
Universal Declaration of Human Rights : a consequence of World War II
The 1930-40s were turmoiled by Nazis. They tortured and killed Jews, Romanis, homosexuals, people with disabilities, and everyone else they found was not one of them. Adolf Hitler locked people in concentration camps. There, he tortured and mutilated them. People would die of hunger and starvation. Even new scientific experiments were conducted on these people. Camps were filled with gas chambers that the prisoners were subjected to. Mass killings were common. The ones who lived were subjected to further torture and slavery.
The main factor behind these tortures was discrimination. The Nazis also promulgated Anti-Semitic Nuremberg laws. They discriminated against Jews under this law. They refused to provide them with basic human rights, citizenship, and equality of opportunity in jobs. They had no freedom of expression or to roam around freely. They were required to have a yellow star on their clothes as a mark of identification.
The laws were different for non-Jews and Jews. Jews were punished harsher for the same crimes. They were mostly sentenced to death, even for the littlest offences. The concentration camps were built with the idea of imprisoning Nazi opponents without trial. There was no liberty, equality, or protection under the law for the Jews. Books written by Jewish authors were not published. They were banned from publication in the newspaper. They were not allowed to form unions. Marriages between Jews and non-Jews were strictly prohibited, and violations attracted severe punishments.
This period of torture and turmoil is known in history as the Holocaust. Many leaders, fighters, and protests led to an end to this horrid practice by 1945. But the years of genocide in Europe horrified the world. At the backdrop of the formation of the United Nations, world leaders came together to take a step toward protecting the human rights of people. With the aim of providing basic human dignity, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was codified and implemented. The UDHR was enforced in Europe via the Human Rights Convention. This enforcement led to the prohibition of torture, slavery, and barbaric treatment of the Jews and provided a regime that promoted equality. The UDHR guaranteed freedom, freedom of religion, conscience, thought and expression. It promoted nondiscrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex, caste, class, origin, etc. It guaranteed the right to privacy and to marry of choice.
Natural law theory as the basis of the UDHR
Natural law theories propose equality, justice, and basic rights like the right to life, the right to own property, basic freedoms and liberties, etc. These natural rights have been embedded in history since the 16th century. The concept of human rights came much later in the 19th century. Human rights law has derived its conceptual basis from the theories of natural law.
Natural law treats certain rights as being “natural,” meaning they have been vested in men and women by the law of nature and nobody has the right to infringe on them. Natural rights were free from political interference. Natural rights are correlated to morality. Thus, it could be said that certain rights were guaranteed to men and women as being considered moral or their basic rights.
These concepts and features developed into the elements of human rights. Human rights derive its concept from the natural law theories in the following manner:
- Basic rights are treated as fundamental and are guaranteed to all human beings. It is considered just and moral to do so. A correlation between law and morality has been established.
- The state was vested by the law of nature with the duty to treat all its citizens equally and without any discrimination.
- Freedom of individuals and equality of humans and their rights were considered the fundamental pillars.
- The citizens should be free and equal to ensure justice.
- Individuals must have private property rights and enjoy these properties fully, without any political or governmental intervention.
- Civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights under human rights are derived from the concept of these rights under natural law.
- Every individual was guaranteed equal protection under the law.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Let us understand the UDHR by understanding its document, the Articles and other provisions:
Like any legal document/legislation, the Preamble is the essence of the entire legislation. So does the preamble of UDHR. It states all the essential elements of the document and also reflects upon the intent of the document. The UDHR Preamble guarantees the following:
- The UDHR recognizes and guarantees basic dignity for all.
- It recognizes equality for all in providing freedom, justice and world peace.
- It recognizes the decades-long plight of people due to the barbaric and inhuman activities of tyrants and promises a world free from injustice. It guarantees freedom of speech and expression; faith and religion; and freedom from fear. It promises a world where human wants and wishes are given equal importance.
- It guarantees equal protection of the law for all. It further says that, when a person is left with no choice but to rebel against injustice and tyranny, it would be reasonable to do so as a last resort to demand what is rightfully theirs: justice, freedom, and equality.
- It aims to establish and maintain friendly foreign relations.
- It promises to guarantee basic human rights to all individuals.
- It guarantees equal rights and dignity to men and women. It promotes social empowerment and development.
- It promotes improved and decent standards of living for all.
- The UN member states pledge to work in furtherance of the goals UDHR aims to achieve and aid in achieving freedom and rights for everyone in the world.
- Every person should be guaranteed basic rights, freedom, respect and dignity.
The UDHR believes that the above mentioned objectives can be achieved only when people and states are fully aware of and understand the need and importance of these fundamental freedoms. For that matter, the UDHR vouches to educate on the basic rights and freedom at national and international levels. The UDHR requires the member states to do the same, create awareness and education, and vouch to promote and practice the values of the UDHR in their territories. Only when all territories and jurisdictions start valuing and following the embedded rules of the UDHR, shall these rights and freedoms be achieved worldly.
Article 1 : Right to equality
Article 1 of the UDHR embodies the values of equality and respect. Article 1 states that as everyone is entitled to equal degrees of respect and freedom by birth, so they do for the rest of their lives. Every individual must respect another and understand that they deserve equal treatment and rights. Nobody is superior to another, and thus, everyone should live in harmony and mutual respect. Men and women must possess conscience toward others as they do for themselves.
Article 1 aims to create a sense of equality among people. The Holocaust was the product of tyranny. It was the consequence of a feeling where some men felt they were superior to others in terms of living, respect, dignity, freedom, basic rights, and protection of the law. They considered themselves the rulers and others their slaves, and the outcome is embedded in blood letters in history. To erase this feeling of superiority-inferiority among men, the UDHR aims to promote equality and educate the truth of nature by Article 1.
Article 2 : Non-discrimination
Article 2 promotes nondiscrimination. It states that every individual is entitled to basic rights and freedoms embedded in the UDHR alike. There shall be no discrimination in guaranteeing these rights on the basis of sex, colour, creed, caste, religion, national origin, etc. Everyone is born equal, and they will continue to be equal and deserve equal treatment. Article 2 ensures providing basic rights to all, irrespective of the language they speak or the religion they profess. People are free to have political and social opinions, but that would not deprive anyone of their rights, freedoms, and protection under the law.
Article 2 says that a person would not be discriminated against on the basis of the state he belongs to. The political status of the state has nothing to do with people’s rights and freedoms. A state could be democratic, monarchic, unruled, independent, or occupied, and that would not make any difference to the rights and freedoms of the people living there. The UDHR pledges to guarantee these rights to all those people. The UDHR aims to uplift their social conditions irrespective of the political condition of their state.
Article 3 : Right to life
Article 3 of the UDHR guarantees the right to life to all. It is the most basic human right and a fundamental right under international and national laws. Everyone has a right to life, and the right to life has a wide ambit. It embodies the values of living with dignity and respect. Every individual must be guaranteed a basic and decent standard of living. Individuals must be able to live with liberty and freedom. The states must make efforts to fulfill the values of Article 3 of the UDHR by incorporating them into their domestic laws and regulations. Every person must receive protection and security under the law to be able to live a life with dignity and without fear.
Article 4 : Prohibition of slavery
Article 4 was drafted with the aim of ending slavery. Slavery had been prevalent in the 19th century to horrendous degrees. People were treated as slaves, as objects that had no other choice than to do as asked. They were treated as animals and had no freedom. They worked for unimaginable hours in hazardous factories. Unsafe experiments were conducted on them. Humans were sold to merchants as slaves. These merchants then imposed ownership over other humans as their slaves. They had no security and were subjected to continuous life threats. Article 4 is also aimed at ending the trade of people as slaves. It ended servitude in all its forms.
Article 5 : Dignity and respect
Article 5 protects people against inhumanity. The Holocaust showed some horrific ways of punishment and cruelty. People were tortured in concentration camps, used as slaves, and subjected to experiments and starvation. People died due to the torture and inhuman treatment they were subjected to. Article 5 of the UDHR was a result of this. Article 5 aims to end all kinds of torture of people. Every person deserves a basic standard of living, and nobody has the right to torture another. Nobody can treat another with disrespect, inhuman behavior, treatment or with demeaning behavior. Article 5 aims to end cruelty, torture, and demeaning treatment by tyrants on their subjects.
Article 6 : Recognition under law
Article 6 aims to protect people under the umbrella of the law. It states that every individual is the same and equal in the eyes of the law and shall be treated likewise. They shall be recognized as equals and be subjected to equal treatment. Every person shall be protected by the law. The punishment for an offence should be the same in the international forum for all individuals belonging to any state. The national laws of all states must treat every person in its jurisdiction equally and there shall be a fair and equal trial before the law.
Article 7 : Equality under law
Article 7 furthers the idea of Article 6. Article 7 reaffirms that every individual must be protected equally under the law. The law and judicial systems at national and international forums are entrusted with the duty to protect people from discrimination of any kind. Every person has the right to seek a remedy against another for the violation of their basic human rights guaranteed under this document, and the law must make every effort to provide them with remedy and justice. The national laws of all states must abide by this Article and treat all citizens alike and without discrimination.
Article 8 : Equal protection by law
Article 8 provides the remedy for violations of Articles 6 and 7 of the UDHR. Article 8 vests the responsibility on national and international courts, tribunals, and other jurisdictionally competent bodies to provide relief and remedy to the person whose human rights have been violated by another. Article 8 guarantees protection under the laws of the UDHR and the rights guaranteed under the constitutional law of each state.
Article 9 : Protection against arbitrariness
Article 9 is a big step towards putting a check on arbitrariness by the government or ruler. The century-old tyranny of rulers had to be put to an end by the law, for good. For this purpose, Article 9 was drafted. It limited the powers of the government and its organs. It provided administrative security to people. Unlawful detentions and arrests without cause or warrants are regarded as violations of Article 9 of the UDHR. International law follows this rule, and the states have embedded the values of Article 9 into their domestic legislation. This protects people from the government’s arbitrary use of power and maintains a balance between the rights of the people and the duties of the ruler.
Article 10 : Justice and judicial independence
Article 10 embodies the values of a fair trial and an independent judiciary. The values of Article 10 are reflected in the rights of prisoners and the fair trial system in all states’ judicial systems. No one should be punished without a fair trial. No one will be subjected to punishment without being given a reasonable and fair opportunity to be heard and fight their case. The judicial system must be impartial and fair. It must treat everyone alike and try in an equal manner. The independence of the judiciary shall be guaranteed while trying cases, and the people shall be given a reasonable opportunity of representation.
Article 11: Rights of persons under trial
Article 11 is a continuation of the values of Article 10 of the UDHR. Article 11 furthers the idea of “innocent until proven guilty.” Every alleged offender shall have the basic rights guaranteed to a prisoner or offender, and he shall not be treated as guilty until the same has been proved beyond reasonable doubt by a competent court or authority. An alleged offender or a person under trial should have the right to defend his case. He shall be given the right to represent his case before an impartial judiciary.
Article 11 further states that laws keep changing and evolving. But, a person shall be subject to the provisions of penal law as it was during the time he committed the offence. The infliction of punishment shall not change for the case being tried over a period of years, even if the gravity of punishment has changed over time.
Article 12 : Right to privacy
Article 12 promotes the right to privacy for every individual and guarantees them respect and dignity. The states must respect every individual’s privacy, dignity, life, and family life. The government or any authority of the state cannot interfere in the private lives of people. People shall have the freedom to live their lives on their own terms and desires, and as long as there is nothing unlawful involved, the state shall not interfere in the private lives of people. Such interference shall be subject to challenge and remedy under law.
Article 13 : Residential rights
Article 13 grants people the right and freedom to travel across borders and reside in any state they wish to by considering a restriction on the right to free movement and residence arbitrary and unlawful under this Article of the UDHR. People are free to leave and again return to their home country, or to make a home in another country and no state shall restrict or disallow anyone from making a home in their country. Article 13 guarantees freedom of movement and freedom of residence as long as it is pursued lawfully.
Article 14: Right to seek asylum
The origin of Article 14 can be traced back to the times of World War II, when refugees and returnees from the war-affected countries were denied residence and asylum in other countries. Thus, Article 14 guarantees people the right to seek asylum in other countries. However, the provisions shall not be applicable to war criminals and other offenders who seek asylum in other countries in order to escape from trials and punishment. The Article was carefully drafted to ensure the protection of innocent civilians and deny facilitating criminals from fleeing away, at the same time. The migrants, refugees, and the ones displaced from their home countries who sought asylum in other countries benefited from the provisions of Article 14. This also guaranteed them the right to life as embedded within the provisions of Article 2 of the UDHR.
Article 15 : Nationality
Article 15 possesses the features of private international law that states that no person shall be without nationality and domicile. Article 15 states that every individual must possess the nationality of some state and shall also be able to change their nationality at will. Nobody shall be deprived of having a national identity. If done so, it shall be regarded as an arbitrary exercise of the powers of the government. Individuals shall be competent to choose to acquire the nationality status of a particular state without any governmental interference or restriction.
Article 16 : Right to marry
Article 16 again traces back to the Holocaust, during which Jews and non-Jews were not allowed to marry, and if they did, they were severely punished. Article 16 empowers people of marriageable age to marry anyone from any gender, caste, colour, or religion as per their choice. Article 16 empowers people to marry and raise a family at their own discretion without any unlawful interference or restriction from the state. They shall be subjected to uniform laws of marriage, marital benefits, dissolution of marriage, child custody, etc., and their marriages shall be recognized under the law to be valid and lawful. Article 16 further states that the only requirement for entering into a valid marriage is the free and willful consent of both parties. If the parties are competent to marry and thereby consent to do so, there is no good reason for the state to interfere in their private lives and choices. This Article also furthers the idea of the right to privacy under Article 12 of the UDHR.
Article 17 : Right to own property
Article 17 guarantees proprietary rights to people. Under the provisions of Article 17, the right of individuals to own property was recognized as a basic human right. People should have the right to own property by themselves or jointly with others. The states shall not interfere or prohibit anyone from owning property lawfully or alienate such properties. Any arbitrary action of the government that deprives people of their right to own property shall be treated as unlawful and a violation of Article 17 of the UDHR.
Article 18 : Freedom of religion
Article 18 guarantees religious freedom to all. Every individual has the right to practice and profess the religion of their choice. People belonging to one religion by birth also have the right to change their religion as they will. Nobody shall be deprived of praying in their places of worship and the state shall not interfere in the religious activities of the people. People should have the freedom to profess their religious beliefs and teachings. The state shall not hurt the religious feelings and sentiments of any person and shall treat people of all religions equally.
Article 19 : Freedom of speech and expression
Article 19 recognizes an individual’s right to speech and expression. Every individual has the right to form an opinion and express it freely. Nobody should interfere in a person’s right to exercise their freedom of speech. Further, everyone is entitled to true and transparent information from the authorities or government regarding any matter that they seek information on. The states shall not deprive any person of having an opinion on any issue and expressing those opinions in private or in public.
Article 20 : Freedom to form associations
Article 20 empowers people to form associations and unions freely. Remember how the Holocaust prevented people from being part of unions like trade unions? Article 20 was drafted keeping that in mind. Article 20 gives people the freedom to form associations freely. People have the right to gather together for a common purpose. But, this has to be done peacefully. Article 20 does not empower people to form associations or assemble to incite violence or riot. Peaceful protests and strikes are a part of this Article. Nobody is allowed to gather people with arms and munitions to incite violence or disturbance in public.
As Article 20 grants the right to form associations, it also grants people the right to abstain from forming associations or being a part of any association or union. Nobody has the right to force another person to be a part of an association that he does not wish to be a part of.
Article 21 : Political rights
Article 21 guarantees equal political rights to every citizen in a particular state. It guarantees the right to vote, to participate in elections and to choose their representatives. It is through these elected representatives that the people participate in the major decision-making of the country that affects the public interest. Thus, the people must also be given the political right to choose their representatives. Every individual shall also be able to avail all the facilities and services available for public benefits equally. Every state is vested with the duty of conducting periodic elections where the principles of universal adult suffrage, secret voting, and “one person, one vote” shall be followed. Depriving any adult individual of their political rights shall be treated as a violation of Article 21 of the UDHR as a human rights violation.
Article 22 : Social rights
Article 22 ensures social rights and dignity for all. Article 22 states that every individual is entitled to dignity in society and that basic economic and cultural rights must be granted to them. Social security is an integral part of any state, and there must be laws to provide it to the citizens. Social security legislation protects people’s rights in jobs, in society, and in their cultural representation. It helps people live a decent life with dignity. Thus, the UDHR imposes the duty on the states to incorporate social security laws in their countries. Additionally, the international forum and international laws are entrusted to act as model laws and showcase ideal social security regulations for the world to follow. The states are expected to cooperate and coordinate with one another as well as with the international forum in furtherance of social security.
Article 23 : Employment rights
Article 23 of the UDHR guarantees equality in employment opportunities to all people alike. Article 23 stresses the fact that every individual deserves equal treatment while providing job opportunities and there shall be no discrimination. No person shall be deprived of employment on grounds other than on the basis of merit. All individuals are guaranteed the right to work under Article 23. It further states that everyone should be subject to positive working conditions and affirmative opportunities. Nobody should face difficulties or rejection due to discrimination. Men, women, people of all races, colours, caste, origins, etc., shall be able to access employment opportunities alike.
Article 23 furthers the principle of ‘equal pay for equal work.’ It states that no person shall be paid less than others doing the same job in the same quantities, for the same position and in the same organization, on discriminatory grounds. Such discrimination shall be treated as a violation of Article 23 of the UDHR.
Article 23 also encompasses the principle of “minimum remuneration/wages.” Every job should provide the basic minimum wages and remuneration to its employees. It also stresses the importance of a positive and welcoming work culture. Organizations must provide people with favourable working conditions. Additionally, employees and workers of an organization or in the same fields of work have the right and freedom to form associations and trade unions at their free will.
Article 24 : Right to rejuvenate
Article 24 is an expansion of Article 23 that ensures employment rights for people. Article 24 states that just as people are entitled to enjoy their right to work, they are also entitled to breaks from work. Organizations employing people must grant employees paid holidays and other periodic breaks. People are entitled to rest and relax. Article 24 also limits the everyday working hours of an individual, which must be at a limit that would not exhaust the individual completely and allow leisure time simultaneously. It is a progressive part of the document that guarantees the right to rejuvenate as a basic human right.
Article 25 : Standards of living
Article 25 ensures a decent standard of living for people. It states that everyone is entitled to basic rights like food, clothing, and shelter for themselves and their families. Healthcare and medical facilities are also embodied within the basic features that together make up a decent standard of living. The states should ensure social security for people in the case of disablement, unemployment, widows, orphans, the elderly, etc. Social security regulations must take special care of pregnant women/mothers. It should treat legitimate and illegitimate children equally while providing protection and benefits.
Article 26 : Right to education
Definitely an important right, Article 26 pledges to ensure the right to education for all. It further makes elementary-level education available free of cost to make sure that every individual possesses a basic minimum degree of education to be able to develop an understanding and opinion on matters of importance. This elementary level of education is further made compulsory for all to ensure everyone is availing of the facility provided to them by the operation of the law. Above the elementary level, education should be readily accessible to children and admissions must be provided or denied solely on the basis of merit. Any other ground of rejection shall be regarded as discriminatory, unlawful, arbitrary and a violation of basic human rights. Education is essential to promoting world peace and the values of cooperation and non-discrimination. Therefore, the states shall make every endeavour to ensure their citizens’ access to education.
Article 27 : Art and literature
Article 27 states that every individual/member of a particular community has the right to participate in and enjoy art, music, and science in their community. Article 27 also provides protection to the literary and artistic works of people. The authors or makers of art and literature have the right to protect the value and morals of their literary, artistic, and linguistic excellence.
Article 28 : Realization of human rights
Article 28 promotes the fulfilment of the basic human rights provided to people under the 30 Articles of the UDHR. Article 28 states that everyone must be protected by international law in exercising their basic human rights. Further, the individual states shall make every effort to adhere to international human rights law and the regulations of the UDHR. The international forum, as well as the states, must coordinate and cooperate in providing protection of human rights. Every effort shall be made to achieve the goals and objectives of this Declaration of Human Rights.
Article 29 : Reasonable restrictions
While the UDHR guarantees a comprehensive range of human rights to all, it also provides reasonable restrictions (Article 29). People owe reasonability and sincerity to the society, community, and state that provide them with social security, basic rights, and freedoms. In realization of these responsibilities, the rights and freedoms of people must be exercised in adherence and consonance to public order, decency, and morals. An individual exercising his rights should not come at the cost of a chaotic or disrupted society. Public order and interests should remain unbothered by the people of the state exercising their rights. Individual welfare must go hand in hand with public and societal welfare. Individual progress must also lead to a progressing society. Lastly, individuals must not exercise their rights and freedom in a way that murders the spirit of the United Nations. Human rights should not be articulated and guaranteed against the values of the UN. The UN promotes basic human rights. Thus, if a right is of such a nature that it is encroaching upon the values of the UN, it ought to be treated as arbitrary and beyond respectable limits.
Article 30 : Protection not to be unlawful
Article 30 clearly states that the rights and freedoms guaranteed under the UDHR shall not be wrongly and unduly utilized by people in furtherance of immoral and unjust activities. It further clarifies that such activities shall not be protected by the Articles and rights ensured under this document.
Impacts and consequences of the Human Rights Declaration
The UDHR, since its incorporation, has had a wide range of impacts and brought several changes to society. The UDHR Articles helped shape international and national laws in favour of human rights and helped create a better society. Some of the many impacts of the UDHR are:
- It helped shape the United Nations. The three principles/pillars of the UN: peace and security; development; and human rights; are all influenced by the UDHR. The UN has not only made human rights an essential pillar of its existence but also shaped the other two pillars in its adherence to it. Peace and security can be achieved only when human rights are upheld in every part of the world. Human rights guarantee personal growth and development to an individual. When each person in society develops, society also develops as a whole. This leads to global development. Thus, the three pillars are interrelated and are attributed to the values embedded in the UDHR. Peace, security, and development are impossible to achieve without basic rights and freedoms. Thus, the UDHR’s impact on the UN is evident.
- The UDHR is a foundation stone for attaining global sustainable development. The international promise of global sustainable development counts for the development of each state and the people in it. This shall be attained with the values of rights and freedoms as provided by the UDHR.
- The UN’s prevention agenda centers around the principles of the UDHR. The Secretary-General stated that every national and international crime always has some element of human rights violations. Thus, the root cause of conflicts and crimes can be eradicated using the principles of the UDHR.
- The UDHR is not an international treaty or agreement. Thus, it is not legally binding on states. However, its principles were so crucial and fundamental in the line of human rights that most countries readily accepted it and incorporated its features into their domestic laws. There are also certain countries that have a history of struggles due to the non-acceptance and non-adherence of human rights laws. We shall learn more about this as we move ahead in this article.
- Even though the UDHR is not legally binding, many treaties and conventions have been followed since 1948. These treaties and conventions have incorporated the UDHR principles into them. As these treaties and conventions are legally binding, the UDHR principles have also become legally binding through the lenses of the binding treaties and conventions.
National laws on human rights : case studies
Now that we have understood fairly about the UDHR, let us look at certain examples where countries have adopted, or have attempted to adopt the UDHR principles into their national laws.
The United States of America and human rights law
The USA has been in an influential position in the drafting and enactment of the UDHR. As such, it was obvious for the USA to become one of the first countries to adopt the UDHR rules and regulations into their domestic laws. Today, in the 21st century, the USA continues to be one of the leading states in promoting human rights developments globally. The USA was one of the first countries to recognize and grant equality and a respectable position in society to people belonging to the LGBTQ+ community. The USA has played an initial role in dealing with issues like trafficking. It has been a global leader in obtaining religious peace and security. The USA has further set up offices and departments of government like the Office of Civil Rights and Bureau of Human Rights, Democracy and Labor which work towards achieving the human rights goals in the state. The US Congress has upheld human rights through various treaties and agreements and essentially through its federal statutes. The US government has enacted federal statutes in accordance with the principles of the UDHR. These are:
The US Constitution and human rights
The US Constitution protects human rights and guarantees these rights and freedoms to all its citizens equally. The US Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression, religious freedoms; the right to education; freedom of choice (in marriage, in religious affairs, etc.); the right to privacy; socio-political rights; and the right to a fair trial. It provides equal protection under the law on a nondiscriminatory basis. The US Constitution provides all the basic human rights and freedoms as have been adopted from the UDHR principles.
The US Civil rights legislation
The US Civil Rights Act of 1964, which came after a long struggle, furthers the idea of human rights and civil rights in the USA. The legislation ensures equality and non-discrimination in granting basic rights to US citizens. The legislation makes discrimination on grounds of caste, race, colour, creed, origin, etc., unlawful. Title VII of the legislation also vouches for equality in employment opportunities and ensures that no individual shall be denied opportunity in employment on a discriminatory ground.
Voting Rights Act of 1965
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was specifically enacted and enforced by the US Congress to guarantee the right to vote to all American citizens without any discrimination. It is in furtherance of Article 21 of the UDHR, which states that every individual should have the right to vote and elect their representatives.
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is a piece of US legislation that protects the basic human rights of specially-abled people by making equal provisions for them just like others. The intent of the legislation is to provide equal opportunities to people with disabilities and not discriminate against them in education, employment, socio-political rights, etc., on the grounds of their physical incapacitation.
Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1978 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and also includes protection for pregnant women from discrimination in employment, etc. Apart from that, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 further provides equality and protection to pregnant women against discrimination. The Act is enforced by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The United Kingdom and human rights law
The United Kingdom adheres to the principles of the UDHR through its primary legislation on human rights, the Human Rights Act of 1998. The UK human rights legislation is enforceable in a court of law against public authorities that violate or attempt to violate the human rights guaranteed to the citizens under this Act. It guarantees equality, fair behaviour, dignity and respect to all. The Act is applicable to all UK residents alike, irrespective of their race, colour, nationality, religion, etc. It applies to men, women, children, the disabled, the elderly, and prisoners alike. The Human Rights Act guarantees all UK citizens:
- Article 2: The right to life,
- Article 3: Protection from torture and other inhuman activities,
- Article 4: Protection from slavery and forced labor,
- Article 5: The right to liberty and freedoms,
- Article 6: Right to have a fair trial system,
- Article 7: Equal protection under law,
- Article 8: Right to privacy,
- Article 9: Religious rights,
- Article 10: Freedom of speech and expression,
- Article 11: Right to form associations and assemble peacefully,
- Article 12: The right to choice in marriage,
- Article 14: Principles of nondiscrimination,
- Protocol 1 Article 1: Right to own property,
- Protocol 1 Article 2: Right to education,
- Protocol 1 Article 3: Political rights.
Thus, the Human Rights Act of 1998 is responsible for protecting human rights in the UK, and the Act has been drafted in adherence to the UDHR standards and principles.
India and the human rights law
India, a democratic and republican nation, as its Constitution describes it, has been a follower and believer in the human rights principles of the UDHR. Accordingly, India has shaped its domestic laws and legislation to uphold human rights.
Indian Constitution and human rights
The Constitution of India protects human rights through its articles. Part III of the Indian Constitution speaks about certain fundamental rights that Indian citizens enjoy, and a violation of these rights by any public authority, department, organization, individual, or government is enforceable in a court of law. The Indian government has given the utmost importance to this Part III of the Constitution by making the fundamental rights unamendable. These rights cannot be amended by the Indian legislature, nor can they be suspended unless the situation is that of an emergency. Part III of the Indian Constitution guarantees the following rights:
- Article 14 guarantees equality before the law which is derived from Article 7 of the UDHR.
- Article 15 prohibits discrimination which is also derived from Article 7 of the UDHR.
- Article 16 promotes equality in opportunities. It is derived from Article 21 of the UDHR.
- Article 19, which speaks about freedom of speech and expression, is derived from Article 19 of the UDHR. Further, Article 19 guarantees the right to assemble (peacefully, without arms). This provision is derived from Article 20 of the UDHR. The freedom to form associations and unions takes its idea from Article 23 of the UDHR.
- Article 19(1)(d) gives Indian citizens the right to move freely across borders which has been adopted from Article 13 of the UDHR.
- Article 21 guarantees the right to life and dignity to Indian citizens. This crucial fundamental right has been adopted from Article 3 of the UDHR.
- Article 4 of the UDHR prohibits slavery and forced labor. This feature has been adopted in the Indian Constitution under Article 23.
- Religious freedom is granted under Article 25 of the Indian Constitution as is under Article 18 of the UDHR.
- The right to be protected from arbitrary detentions or unlawful arrests under Article 22 of the Indian Constitution has taken the ideal from Article 9 of the UDHR.
- Article 32 empowers Indian citizens to enforce these fundamental rights in a court of law and fight a violation. This is applicable under Article 8 of the UDHR which allows the enforcement of rights.
Fundamental rights are enforceable in Indian courts. Part IV of the Indian Constitution also derives its ideology from the UDHR. Even though Part IV is not enforceable in courts, it enumerates certain fundamental duties that are expected of the citizens and the government and its authorities on the grounds of morality and conscience. Articles 39, 41, and 43 speak about employment rights such as equality in employment opportunities, favourable working conditions, etc., as derived from Article 23 of the UDHR. Article 43 also speaks about the right to rest, which is inspired by Article 24 of the UDHR. The Indian legislature has also established a National Human Rights Commission for the protection of human rights in India.
Pakistan and Afghanistan; and human rights law
Some countries have struggled to adopt the human rights principles of the UDHR. Their people have struggled to enjoy the basic rights till today, they are:
- Article 9: Liberty and security for the people,
- Article 10: Protection against detention,
- Article 10A: A fair trial system,
- Article 11: Prohibits slavery and forced labor,
- Article 12: Prohibits inflicting punishment retrospectively,
- Article 13: Prohibits punishing twice,
- Article 14: Protects people’s dignity,
- Article 15: Right to move freely,
- Article 16: Right to assemble,
- Article 17: Right to form associations,
- Article 18: Freedom in occupation,
- Article 19: Freedom of speech,
- Article 19A: Right to get information,
- Article 20: Religious rights,
- Article 23, 24: Right to own property,
- Article 25: Right to equality,
- Article 25A: Education rights,
- Article 26: Principles of nondiscrimination.
Although these rights have been guaranteed to the citizens, human rights violations continue to exist in Pakistan. People live in terrible conditions, with their rights being continuously violated. Human rights violations have only worsened over the years. Violations have been observed in the following manners:
- Religious minorities are constantly targeted. They are forced to cast their vote or support a particular political party in power. They are bashed for expressing dissenting opinions. They are not given the right to speech and expression as they are constantly threatened if they try to speak anything about the majority religion or the government.
- Many times, people are not given the freedom to choose and practice a religion of their choice. They are compelled to convert to the majority religion and base their religious beliefs on that religion.
- The right to assemble or form associations is often encroached upon. People are beaten and attacked if they begin protesting on matters of importance or demand their rights.
- Gender discrimination and violence are the worst human rights violations in the state. Women are placed below men and are not treated with dignity. Their education, marriage, maternity and everything else is controlled by men. Many women do not receive basic education or are not allowed to work.
- Workers’ rights are neglected by the state. Refugees and migrants are treated in the worst possible manner.
- The right to health is not given enough importance, especially for women.
The Afghanistani Constitution is the source of promises of human rights to its citizens. The Constitution of Afghanistan provides certain rights to its citizens in the form of fundamental rights that are embedded in Chapter II of the Afghan Constitution. These are:
- Article 22: Right to equality,
- Article 23: Right to life,
- Article 24: Liberty and dignity for all,
- Article 25: People under trial are to be presumed innocent until proven guilty,
- Article 26, 27: Protection of the law and protection against unlawful arrests,
- Article 29: Prohibits torture,
- Article 33: Voting rights,
- Article 34: Freedom of speech and expression,
- Article 35: Right to form associations,
- Article 36: Right to assemble peacefully,
- Article 39: Right to move freely,
- Article 40: Right to own property,
- Article 43: Right to education,
- Article 49: Prohibits slavery,
- Article 52: Right to health.
Although the abovementioned rights are codified in the Afghani Constitution, the real-life implication of the Articles is far-fetched. The government has been infamous for violating international human rights, committing war crimes and abusing international laws as well as their Constitution. The government was overthrown by Talibani invaders in 2021. The condition of people worsened. Protestors were killed en masse. Women and children were the worst sufferers. Religious minorities were subjected to excruciating torture and killings. Targeted killings have become an everyday affair in the state. Many were forced to leave the country. Many begged to be able to leave. The condition of women was already regressive in the country and it has severely worsened due to the Talibani rule. None of the fundamental rights are being exercised by the people. The freedom of speech or to assemble has been entirely curtailed. International troops and international aid were withdrawn from the state. All of these started happening during the global COVID-19 pandemic, which further worsened the condition. People did not get access to healthcare and died. The invasion, alongside COVID-19 and international withdrawals, has put the country in economic turmoil. The condition gave rise to an increased number of refugees and migrants. Women do not get access to education or employment. They have repeatedly been victims of sexual violence. The LGBTQ+ community’s rights have been suspended and same-sex relations or marriages have been criminalized in the state.
Thus, the country-wise analysis shows that while certain countries, like the USA and India, have very well incorporated the principles of UDHR and international humanitarian laws into their domestic laws, there are still countries, like Pakistan and Afghanistan, where people suffer even today, just as people did during the 19th century Holocaust. These countries still have a long way to go till they become safe spaces for people to reside.
Office of High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR)
The Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) is the United Nations office for human rights (otherwise known as UN Human Rights Office) and is the primary office to monitor and uphold the international human rights laws, conventions and treaties. The OHCHR ensures that the international forum and the member states abide by the human rights standards of the UN. The OHCHR is a one-place coordinating body that coordinates with international and national courts, offices, bodies, governments, and legislatures in furtherance of humanitarian laws and values.
Composition and working of the OHCHR
- The OHCHR is headed by the High Commissioner of Human Rights. He is the head human rights official for the UN.
- The High Commissioner is appointed by the General Assembly via resolution 48/141 for a tenure of four years.
- Alongside the High Commissioner, other members are also elected into the office who actively promote and protect human rights all across the globe.
- Apart from the funding from the UN for its running, the office also receives regular funding from certain states, organisations, etc.
- The High Commissioner is vested with all the duties and responsibilities to be fulfilled by the OHCHR. He/she is responsible for upholding human rights globally.
- He/she runs the administration of the OHCHR.
- The High Commissioner is answerable to the UN Secretary-General.
- He/she is vested with duties and responsibilities by the General Assembly of the UN.
- Any new bill or policy that concerns human rights is decided with the aid and advice of the High Commissioner.
- He/she promotes and supports programs and organizations in support or in favour of human rights.
- He/she participates in all meetings concerning human rights and works in furtherance of the newly decided policies or agendas for human rights progress in society.
International conventions on human rights
The UDHR was a non-binding document. But its principles were eventually incorporated into various treaties and conventions. These are:
UN Covenant I : International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) of 1966
The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) is an UN-UDHR convention on human rights that aims at promoting equal rights for all human beings in fulfilment of their economic, social, and cultural freedoms and liberties. It promotes world peace and justice for all. The ICESCR recognizes equality and freedom as the basis of achieving these socio-economic and cultural goals. It aims for every person to live a life with dignity and respect. The ICESCR states that apart from social, cultural, and economic rights, people must enjoy certain political and civic rights, as has been idealized and codified in the UDHR. The ICESCR is divided into five Parts and 31 Articles that together promote the rights and freedoms of people.
People have the right to choose their political status and determine their cultural and socio-economic development. People have the right to dispose of their property, wealth, and resources without any interference from national or international forums. The Convention shall help people in the realization of their rights.
The signatory states to this Covenant are required to assist and facilitate people in the realization of their rights. No discrimination shall be made between people belonging to different races, colours, creeds, nationalities, sexes, origins, religions, etc. Men and women shall enjoy equality while determining their social, cultural, and economic rights. There shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex. The covenant guarantees the right to work and equal employment rights to all. It protects the economic freedoms of people. In employment, there shall be provisions for minimum wages, appropriate remuneration, and suitable working conditions for all.
The signatory states are required to maintain and provide social security to their citizens. Everyone shall be guaranteed a decent standard of living with equal access to food, healthcare, housing, etc. The states shall ensure a basic minimum education for all children. The ICESCR also established an Economic and Social Council which shall work in furtherance of the binding principles of the ICESCR and monitor the adherence of the ICESCR Articles by member states.
UN Covenant II : International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) of 1966
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) ensures and promotes civil and political rights for all individuals. The member states are required to inculcate these principles into their domestic laws in order to achieve the objective of the ICCPR in attaining universal civil and political equality. The ICCPR states that people shall be able to exercise their civil and political rights at will and there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex, colour, race, nationality, etc. Any person whose rights have been denied by the legislature or any department or authority of the government shall be able to enforce these rights in a court of law.
The states shall be diligent when granting or restricting the civil and political rights of their citizens. Nobody should be sentenced to the death penalty unless the gravity of the offence is such that it qualifies for the death penalty. Any person who has been sentenced to the death penalty has the right to seek a pardon. Pardon can be granted as per the circumstances and situation of each case.
Nobody should be subjected to torture or other inhuman crimes inflicted upon them. The ICCPR bans slavery and the slave trade entirely. No person shall be arrested or detained unlawfully or arbitrarily. Such action of the state shall be regarded as a violation of the ICCPR. The rights of the prisoners shall be upheld by the state. An arrested person must be brought before a jury without unnecessary delays. The trial process shall begin without delays for the alleged offenders. There shall be a presumption of innocence unless proven guilty. Nobody shall be detained or be denied entry into their home country or any other country without a valid reason. People’s civil and political rights and freedoms shall be protected by law.
International Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) of 1965
The International Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) is a UDHR Convention for the protection of people against discrimination on the basis of race. The convention was prepared with the intent of putting an end to discrimination and oppression inflicted on people on the basis of race. For a long time, racial discrimination had been the basis of people’s plight, especially in the USA. Thus, the ICERD was enacted to end racial discrimination and outlaw every policy, regulation, and piece of legislation that discriminated against people on the basis of race.
The ICERD defined “racial discrimination” and aimed at banning it in all its forms. It vested the responsibility with the states to make and omit policies and laws in their respective states that were for or against racial discrimination. It is the duty of the states to ensure that no citizen in their state is discriminated against on the basis of race. Racial segregation must become unlawful by the domestic laws of the states.
Organs of government like the judiciary, and its forums shall not discriminate against any person because of the race they belong to. Political, economic, social, and civil rights must be made on the basis of equality and uniformity. Human rights, like the right to life, the right to education, the right to own property, freedom of speech and expression, etc., shall be guaranteed to every individual without any discrimination.
The ICERD established a Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination that works in furtherance of the principles of this convention. The Committee is answerable to the UN Secretary-General and also submits periodic reports to him/her. The Committee appoints its officers for a tenure of 2 years, and it makes and manages its own policies and regulations in adherence to the ICERD principles.
Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) of 1979
The Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is a UDHR Convention that aims to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women across the world. This was the first step in specifically dealing with human rights violations concerning women and bringing a binding treaty to the signatory countries in making their domestic laws and legislation in adherence to the CEDAW.
It is no doubt that women were among the worst sufferers in ancient times, and it is no lie that they continue to struggle even today. However, many steps have been taken in a positive direction that has resulted in improved conditions for women all over the globe. One such step in the positive direction was the UDHR CEDAW.
The CEDAW vests the duties on the signatory states to enact laws for ending discrimination against women in their respective states. The CEDAW defines “discrimination against women” and aims to eliminate it in all its forms. It promotes equality between men and women in the exercise of their fundamental rights and human rights. It promotes equality for women in all spheres of life. It promotes equality in opportunity and in employment. It promotes the principles of ‘equal pay for equal work’ which is the basis of non-discrimination in employment rights.
The CEDAW aims to drop the statistics of crimes against women and increase the graph when it comes to the education and employment of women. It ensures women enjoy the same political rights and are at par with their male counterparts. The CEDAW establishes a Committee for Elimination of Discrimination against Women which ensures and monitors that the CEDAW principles are implemented by the states.
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of 1984
The 19th century witnessed some of the worst human rights violations in the form of torture and cruelty. That was the reason for the enactment of the UDHR. Thus, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment is one of the most important conventions of the UDHR since it deals with this aspect of human rights. The text of the convention defines “torture” and makes every form of torture unlawful.
A crucial part of the convention states that no grounds or reasons can justify torture. These grounds include war, instability, and emergency, and none of these is a good enough justification for inflicting torture. A state government is not allowed to banish any person from the resident state by saying that he is a threat to the nation. Acts of torture and cruelty shall be dealt with as a criminal offence by the states.
If an act of torture or cruelty occurs within the jurisdiction of a particular state, the state shall make an expedient endeavour to ensure the victim gets justice. The convention also establishes a Committee against Torture (CAT) which shall ensure effective implementation of the convention by signatory states. The Committee shall be answerable to the UN Secretary-General and shall submit periodic reports. Members shall be appointed to the Committee against Torture for a tenure of 2 years and shall work to achieve the human rights goals of the convention.
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) of 1989
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) protects the human rights of all children below 18 years of age. Each state must ensure the rights of children in their jurisdictions are protected without any discrimination on the basis of sex, colour, creed, nationality, etc. The laws and policies made for children must ensure their welfare and benefits as a primary duty. The state must take all the administrative measures for the well-being of the children in their state.
Every child is vested with a right to life by virtue of birth. The parents or guardians are vested with certain duties, like registering the birth of the child and vesting the child with a name and nationality. The state authorities must ensure that the proper registrations are made for a child after his birth and he shall not be separated from his parents without any logical reasoning.
As the child matures in age and understanding, he shall acquire the freedom of speech and expression. Every child must be able to exercise, as a right, the freedom to choose his religion. He shall be guaranteed freedom of thought and conscience.
Children shall enjoy the right to education and must receive compulsory education up to a certain minimum level. Every child shall have the same rights and freedoms as an adult, as they mature in age. This shall be subjected to reasonable restrictions, keeping in mind public order and morality, as per the needs and circumstances of the case. The CRC has established a Committee on the Rights of Child for the implementation of these measures.
Convention on Rights of the Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) of 2006
The Convention on Rights of the Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was implemented to ensure that people with disabilities enjoy the same rights and privileges in society as others without any discrimination. It accords special rights to them in terms of healthcare benefits. The CRPD ensures that disabled people get access to healthcare facilities without any obstacles or discrimination.
These people must be treated as any other person in society. They must be able to exercise their free will in exercising their right to life and other rights and freedoms. It establishes and promotes equality and nondiscrimination. Further, women and children with disabilities shall not be treated any differently than men with disabilities.
These people must be recognized by the law just like others. They should be granted protection from torture, cruelty, and violence. They should have the right to move freely and also enjoy the right to privacy. Their private lives or other rights shall not be encroached upon by the state or its authorities. The CRPD also establishes a Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to uphold their rights and freedoms.
International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CPED) of 2010
The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CPED) is a UDHR convention that protects people from forced disappearance as an act of the state or its officials. It states that no circumstances, like war, emergency, or political instability, can justify an act of the state to forcibly cause the disappearance of someone from society.
Enforced disappearance consists of unlawful detentions, illegal arrests, or abductions of individuals by state authorities. An act of enforced disappearance by the state shall be regarded as a criminal offence under law and a human rights violation under this Convention. The act is punishable under international law and the states shall also make regulations to hold liable the person behind causing any other person’s forceful disappearance.
Any instituted complaint shall be taken seriously by the state authorities and the investigations must be started immediately and expediently. Any delays or rejection to file a complaint shall be treated as unlawful and contempt by the person having authority. The Convention has established a Committee on Enforced Disappearances to look after every issue of enforced disappearance and ensure justice for people.
International Convention on Protection of Rights of Migrant Workers (ICRMW) of 1990
The UDHR Convention on Protection of Rights of Migrant Workers (ICRMW) was enacted to protect the rights of migrant workers and end their plight. Migrant workers often suffer for a variety of reasons. Their rights are not properly recognized. They are often not recognized by a state’s laws, and they continue to face difficulties.
The ICRMW protects their rights and guarantees them basic rights during employment. The organizations employing the workers are required to provide them with decent working conditions and also take care of their safety and health. The ICRMW abolishes forced labor and makes torture against migrant workers punishable by law. It promotes non-discrimination and minimum wages for these workers. The convention not only protects migrant workers but also extends lawful help to their family members.
The Convention describes all forms of migrant workers, like seasonal workers, itinerant workers, etc., and provides them with rights and freedoms equally. The ICRMW establishes a Committee on Protection of Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families for the implementation of the provisions of this Convention.
Most bizarre human rights violations of all time
Child Slavery in the Ugandan Army
Uganda is centrally located in East Africa and has been a place for trade and business in the country. But the condition and state of affairs have not been economically upscaling in the country for decades. Africa, a least developed country continues to suffer, and its economic plight has become a reason for many crimes. One of the worst forms of such crimes has been seen in the form of child labor and slavery. Children are forced into working in agricultural fields and other hazardous, life-risking industries. Sex trafficking has been prevalent in the country, where children are sold for money to traders and merchants who then engage them as slaves.
One crucial factor behind this sorry state of affairs is the lack of education. Most children in Uganda do not get access to even elementary education for reasons of poverty, lack of government support, etc. School-going children have also been subjected to sexual and physical violence by school staff, which makes them drop out of school.
The condition of rural families and rural children is only worse. They are at greater risk and threat of being engaged in slavery than urban children. These children are engaged in factories and industries involved in health and life-risking activities like mining, making bricks, tobacco industries, etc., which further worsens their health index and mortality rate. In the worst forms of child slavery, trafficked children are exploited sexually and are used for illegal dealings.
It was found out in 2002 that for over 18 years, the Ugandan army (Lord’s Resistance Army) had been kidnapping and forcing kids into slavery, where boys were put into the army and girls were sold as sex slaves. Even though the Ugandan laws have prohibited slavery for children below 12 years of age and have taken several initiatives like the National Action Plan (NAP) and appointed officers and task forces to prohibit child slavery and labor in the country, little progress has been made as children continue to be engaged in these activities. These are utter violations and a total absence of human rights in the country and continue to plague the country.
Forced sterilization of underage disabled girls in Australia
It would not be wrong to call this the worst form of human rights violation. Sterilization is the process by which women are rendered incapable of reproducing. The practice in Australia has been to sterilize underaged disabled girls. This form of forceful sterilization is known as eugenics. Over the years, the poor, disabled, and sometimes minority women have been subjected to it. This is a form of human rights violation since it does not give any importance to consent and forced sterilization on these girls. It is a violation of their right to life, right to privacy, right to dignity, decent standards of living and reproductive rights.
This act is not only violative of the international human rights laws but also of the UDHR Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which protects the rights of disabled people and promotes nondiscrimination on the basis of gender. The heinous act of forceful and involuntary sterilization continues to be legal in Australia. Disabled women are subjected to sterilization by the courts’ orders, and they are not given any rehab or compensation either. The courts justify it by saying that it is necessary to provide relief to family members of disabled girls who suffer during the girl’s menstrual cycles. Even a progressive and developed nation like the USA has not criminalized forced sterilization until today (Buck v. Bell, 1927).
Forceful genitalia examinations in Afghanistan
Afghanistan has been infamous for its human rights violations. One such demeaning form of human rights violation is practised in the form of “virginity tests.” As a result, when a woman in Afghanistan had been sexually assaulted or raped, the police conducted virginity tests on those women to check if they were sexually active before the incident as a part of the investigation process. Even when a woman is found to have a premarital relationship with a man, she was subjected to the virginity test. The damage of the hymen membrane, which can occur due to various reasons other than a sexual experience, becomes a determinant factor in determining if the woman was sexually active. Apparently, this helps in determining the morals and character of the woman, which is an important factor when deciding a case involving sexual assault.
The consent of the victim is neither asked for nor treated as important. They are forcibly subjected to the test as a part of the investigation procedure by the police. This is violating women’s rights to life, safety, dignity, and other human rights. It is a form of inhuman activity/cruelty against the woman. The act continues to prevail in the state even after being unlawful under international humanitarian laws, UDHR principles and its conventions.
The Ugandan Anti-Gay Bill
In 2014, the Ugandan government passed the Anti-Gay or Anti-Homosexuality bill into law. This Anti-Homosexuality law criminalizes same-sex relationships in Uganda. The Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014 boasts its objective as being to preserve traditions and family life. This Act criminalized same-sex relations, their recognition, and sexual relationships between homosexuals. It punishes these acts with a minimum imprisonment of 10 years, which may increase to life imprisonment. In 2014, the bill was declared null and void on constitutional grounds, but the lawmakers analyzed that the law might be reinstated as legislation yet again. It is only nullified on procedural grounds, and thus, it could be presented in Parliament for voting once again after making amends.
The initial bill voted for the death penalty for offenders of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. Thus, the Act was otherwise criticized as being called the “Kill the Gays” bill. This was later amended into capital punishment. This was not the first attempt in Uganda to criminalize same-sex relationships. The Penal Code Act of 1950 (Section 145) prescribes Anti-Sodomy laws in Uganda. It declares same-sex relationships as unnatural and prescribes a minimum punishment of 7 years’ imprisonment. These laws and legislation are an utter violation of human rights of people belonging to the LGBTQ+ community. The LGBTQ+ community has struggled for years to get recognition and their rights under law. As such, anti-homosexuality laws are regressive in nature and further demean their condition in society.
Times of the industrial revolution and child labor
The 18th and 19th centuries witnessed the industrial revolution. It was the time when the USA emerged as an industrial giant. Many people migrated from remote areas to urban locations with dreams and aspirations, but the reality hit differently. The industrial revolution engaged people in factories, industries, and other hazardous sectors of business. Not even children were spared. Child labor and slavery were very common. Starting from engaging kids in household chores or tea shops to using them in hazardous industries or selling them to merchants, child labor took an ugly toll during the period. Additionally, these people, and even the children, had to work long hours in these mines and factories for very little money. These children faced health hazards and suffered from illnesses and diseases. Many died due to severe health conditions.
The children who never made it to the urban cities suffered in rural areas. They had to work long hours in agricultural fields and related activities. They were denied education and could not make a good life for themselves as they had to constantly work as laborers. The horrendous situation continued for decades until activists and advocates of human rights protested to bring about a regime of change and protect human rights. Even so, there are several parts of the world where child labor continues to be prevalent and has been a constant threat to the well-being and development of these children.
Racial discrimination and slavery in the US
The United States of America has been guilty of practising racial discrimination for centuries. These people were minorities in the state and were discriminated against in every sphere of life. Most of them were given up in forced slavery and lived miserable days. They were denied basic rights and freedoms. This form of human rights violation continued in the US for years.
The practice of racial segregation and discrimination was very common. Schools, universities, and even public accommodations practised racial segregation. They were denied basic rights like the right to life, the right to privacy, the right to education and equality. They were given little or no respect and few opportunities in employment. Schools and colleges often denied admissions into their institution on the basis of racial discrimination.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted in the US to end the practice of racial discrimination in the state and it brought many positive changes. Though the situation is no longer the same as it used to be decades ago, there are still parts of the country where the practice still continues in silence and it does not come to light.
The Holocaust was the very reason for the enactment of the UDHR and the conventions that followed. The Nazis under the rule of Adolf Hitler killed near about 6 million Jews and how. They slaved them, tortured them, starved them, and ultimately killed them. These mass killings were called the Holocaust (meaning mass destruction or catastrophe).
Racism, religious turmoil, and a superiority complex over another human race were the root causes of the mishap. It dates back to the middle ages, when Jews were blamed for Christ’s death. Germany, on losing World War I, blamed it on the Jews. This hatred for Jews worsened over time. It took catastrophic turns during World War II.
Ultimately, Hitler turned to torture and violence. He even started keeping the Jews in concentration camps where he would inflict torture in many forms. The Nazis would conduct unsafe scientific experiments on them, cut off the oxygen supplies, or release harmful gases into the camps. Many died of starvation too. Others continued to be tortured and used as slaves.
The Holocaust was the worst human rights violation of all time, and the revolutionary changes began only after it.
Sex-trafficking in Thailand
Thailand has not only been known for its beaches and scenic beauty, but has also been infamous for its human trafficking and sex trafficking. Among women and children, minorities and migrants are mostly the victims of sex trafficking. The people involved in trafficking rackets often control chains and connections through which they sell and transport humans.
The most common form of human trafficking is sex trafficking. Other reasons include forced labor, slavery, and trade. Sex trafficking is not an issue confined to Thailand alone. It is a global human rights violation where the network is expanding faster than ever. In 2016, the ILO (International labor Organisation) of the UN reported that 4 million people were trafficked globally and had been subjected to sexual exploitation. 99% of these 4 million were women, who were sold and sexually exploited.
Human rights violations in the form of sex-traficking, continue to exist even today and make up roughly $99 billion in the world economy. Even the developed nations have not been able to curb these increasing numbers as the crime continues.
South USA’s Jim Crow Laws
Before the beginning of the civil rights movements and protests, the Jim Crow Laws were prevalent in the South USA. This law legalized and facilitated racial segregation in public places, public accommodations, and public schools, etc. It further denied black Americans the right to vote.
These laws, along with the black codes passed in the South, USA, discriminated against black Americans and African Americans for being minorities. These laws made it easier for the economically better classes of America and the majority to exploit and discriminate against the minorities and force them into slavery.
Segregation and racial discrimination became a common language in the whole of South USA and continued to be so until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. The conditions began improving in bits and pieces only after 1964.
Recent Anti-Abortion Laws in the USA
Abortion was given legal recognition as a legal right for women in the US in the year 1973 by the judgement of Roe v. Wade (1973). This historic judgement was overturned most recently in June 2022. The regressive judgement and ruling of the US Supreme Court have received ridicule and heavy criticism since then.
Reproductive rights are a fundamental human right and include the right to get a medical abortion. It is a basic feature of international humanitarian laws and treaties. Throughout history, countries have made efforts to bring a stable regime and affirmative actions toward abortion rights and laws. In an unexpected event in the US, the Supreme Court pronounced the most regressive judgement by banning it.
It put a blanket ban on the right to life, right to privacy, and right to the reproductive health of women in the state. For instance, a rape victim who now needs to abort cannot do so; a pregnant woman whose health is at risk due to a certain medical condition that does not permit pregnancy cannot abort; and a woman who simply is not ready to have a child, emotionally, mentally, and financially, cannot terminate the pregnancy.
This is a human rights violation in the modern age, and coming from a developed nation like the US, it sets the wrong example for other countries.
Merits and demerits of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The UDHR definitely came with a host of rights and merits. But as every coin has two sides, so does the Declaration. It brought with it certain demerits as well. These can be seen as:
Merits of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The adoption of the UDHR brought with it the following merits:
- It was the first time that human rights were recognized in an international forum. It led to many treaties, conventions, and discussions on the topic that needed attention for a long time.
- The adoption of human rights led to the states adopting and developing human rights laws in their national laws and legislation. This also promoted uniformity.
- UDHR promoted international, national, and individual peace, security, rights, freedoms, and justice. The civil rights, freedom of expression and many other rights that we enjoy today on a day-to-day basis were formed by the UDHR.
- UDHR promoted equality. It became the basis for recognition of the need for equality. The world has come a long way in achieving it.
- Non-discrimination was the need of the hour. For centuries, people suffered due to discrimination in every aspect of their lives, like education, employment, or merely availing of public facilities.
- UDHR sets standards and norms for all to follow. The member states became bound by international treaties and conventions that followed. These treaties, conventions, and domestic laws of countries made their provisions at par with the internationally set standards of the UDHR.
- UDHR limited and restricted government/authorities’ arbitrariness and bias. These authorities or governments could now be held liable and presented before a court of law for violating the human rights of individuals, groups, etc. It also lays out the standard procedure to be followed.
- The individual citizens’ position was uplifted in society, socially, economically, and politically, and they got a representation, or a say, in the government’s decisions and policies. Public welfare started to gain recognition.
- The countries developed on social, political, and economic fronts. A society cannot evolve and develop without the development of its people. As individuals’ lives improved, so did the status of the state.
- UDHR became a model law and international humanitarian laws developed through the lens of the UDHR.
Demerits of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The UDHR also came with a set of demerits, such as:
- The biggest drawback of the UDHR is its nature of non-bindingness. After all the efforts of making the document and incorporating all the essential human rights aspects into it, the document was not binding on the parties. At the very beginning of it, in 1948, it was additionally difficult to create recognition and conscience for human rights law. Thus, the non-binding element added to the lack of initiative.
- It was only optional for the states to follow. This, in a way, gives a wrong conception of the importance of the subject. As the rights were already not recognized and people were aware of their rights, and the governments were unaware of the importance of implementing those standards of the UDHR, the nature of the document being optional further added to the ignorance.
- For many years, it looked good only on paper. There is a huge difference between making laws and implementing them in reality. This happened with the human rights laws as well. Even when countries started making domestic laws on the matter, their implementation and enforcement in everyday life were negligible. Thus, people continued to suffer. People continue to suffer even today in several parts of the world.
- The standards set by the UDHR were too high for certain countries to follow. Not every country had the access to resources, finances, infrastructure, and zeal to provide their citizens with human rights to the standard set by the UDHR. Some countries, even today, do not even have the resources and capacity to adhere.
- The worst sufferers were the least developed countries. First, their people suffered due to the absence of legal rights, freedoms, and equality. Then, countries started struggling to adopt model laws. This led to the laws being adopted in an improper and inefficient manner, which further prolonged the plight of the people. These people and their governments suffer even today and nothing fruitful has yet been done to change their situations.
- Even though the UDHR was followed by international treaties and agreements, none of those treaties or agreements contained everything that was penned in the UDHR. Further, not all the countries were signatories to all the UDHR treaties and agreements. This led to incompleteness in incorporating the UDHR principles into the national laws. A consequence of this would be people not getting access to all the fundamental human rights as per the international standards.
- Culture, traditions, and religious beliefs have been factors of hindrances to the international norms of human rights. People belonging to a certain religion, especially those with orthodox beliefs, do not accept international human rights in their true form. They reject it and refuse to follow it.
International Day of Human Rights
December 10, 1948, was the day when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the UN General Assembly. This day is celebrated as the “International Day of Human Rights” on the 10th of every December. The significance of this day is that it not only celebrates the freedoms and rights that people were awarded due to the adoption of the UDHR but also comes with a unique theme every year to promote the values of the UDHR. In 2021, the day was celebrated with the theme of “equality.” It promoted the ideals and principles of Article 1 of the UDHR, which states that all men and women are born equal and free with respect to dignity and other rights. It promotes equality, justice, non-discrimination and rights.
The UDHR was the foundation stone for many rights that we enjoy today. We may or may not realize the importance of these basic rights, but people have suffered and sacrificed for ages to give us what we have today. As it is said, absence makes one realize the value of presence. The makers and activists who led to the initiation and compelled the law to tend to human needs are to be thanked. The formation of the UDHR gave rights, freedoms and another important thing to people – ‘hope’ for a better society where human wants and needs are given priority. When men and women are at par, and where people do not have to die for speaking their truth. World War I and II taught us many things. The Holocaust was an era we must be thankful for not being a part of. The horrendous tortures and inhuman activities have been put to an end due to the efforts and initiation of the UDHR. Sadly, there are still some parts of the world where human rights are still violated, be it the anti-abortion laws of the US or slavery in the least developed nations. The state of affairs is yet to change. The change is possible only with international cooperation and coordination alongside the initiatives of the UDHR and the United Nations. If we keep moving in the right direction, the day will not be far when world peace, equality, and justice will be a reality.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What was the main purpose behind the adoption of the UDHR by the UN?
The UDHR was drafted and adopted by the UN after the ‘barbarous acts’ during World War II. It was drafted with the objective of bringing certain universal basic human rights that every individual shall be entitled to.
How many countries are signatories to the UDHR?
The UDHR has been signed and adopted by 192 countries as of today. These are member states of the UN. Thus, all the UN member countries have also adopted the UDHR.
What is the key difference between the UDHR and its subsequent treaties and conventions?
The key difference between the UDHR and its subsequent treaties and conventions is the basis of its legal bindingness. The UDHR is not legally binding, whereas the other international treaties and conventions that came to be made under the UDHR are legally binding and enforceable.
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