What we mean when we talk about a “Rights-based approach”: Social action based on Human rights
What are human rights?
Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.
Universal human rights are often expressed and guaranteed by law, in the forms of treaties, customary international law , general principles and other sources of international law. International human rights law lays down obligations of Governments to act in certain ways or to refrain from certain acts, in order to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups.
Universal and inalienable
The principle of universality of human rights is the cornerstone of international human rights law. This principle, as first emphasized in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in 1948, has been reiterated in numerous international human rights conventions, declarations, and resolutions. The 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights, for example, noted that it is the duty of States to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems.
All States have ratified at least one, and 80% of States have ratified four or more, of the core human rights treaties, reflecting consent of States which creates legal obligations for them and giving concrete expression to universality. Some fundamental human rights norms enjoy universal protection by customary international law across all boundaries and civilizations.
Human rights are inalienable. They should not be taken away, except in specific situations and according to due process. For example, the right to liberty may be restricted if a person is found guilty of a crime by a court of law.
Interdependent and indivisible
All human rights are indivisible, whether they are civil and political rights, such as the right to life, equality before the law and freedom of expression; economic, social and cultural rights, such as the rights to work, social security and education , or collective rights, such as the rights to development and self-determination, are indivisible, interrelated and interdependent. The improvement of one right facilitates advancement of the others. Likewise, the deprivation of one right adversely affects the others.
Equal and non-discriminatory
Non-discrimination is a cross-cutting principle in international human rights law. The principle is present in all the major human rights treaties and provides the central theme of some of international human rights conventions such as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
The principle applies to everyone in relation to all human rights and freedoms and it prohibits discrimination on the basis of a list of non-exhaustive categories such as sex, race, colour and so on. The principle of non-discrimination is complemented by the principle of equality, as stated in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
Both Rights and Obligations
Human rights entail both rights and obligations. States assume obligations and duties under international law to respect, to protect and to fulfil human rights. The obligation to respect means that States must refrain from interfering with or curtailing the enjoyment of human rights. The obligation to protect requires States to protect individuals and groups against human rights abuses. The obligation to fulfil means that States must take positive action to facilitate the enjoyment of basic human rights. At the individual level, while we are entitled our human rights, we should also respect the human rights of others.
A UN committee, headed by Eleanor Roosevelt, drafted the document that defined and universally granted the basic rights to all human beings, terming them the equal and inalienable rights of every human being. The Declaration, known as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948.
The UN, formed in 1945 to replace the defunct League of Nations, was the first to put up a formal global setup to define human rights. Individual countries had their own codes concerning human rights before the UN stepped in, but with the horrors of the Holocaust still fresh in the world’s collective conscience, the UN’s authoritative intervention became crucial.
Here’s the list of human rights described in the UDHR.
Article 1 — Right To Equality
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Article 2 — Freedom From Discrimination
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
Article 3 — Right to Security of Person
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
Article 4 — Freedom from Slavery
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.
Article 5 — Freedom From Inhumane Treatment
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.
Article 6 — Right To Legal Recognition
Everyone has the right to be recognized as a person before the law.
Article 7 — Right To Equality Before the Law
All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.
Article 8 — Right To Remedy by Competent Tribunal
Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted to him by the constitution or by law.
Article 9 — Freedom From Arbitrary Legal Prosecution
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
Article 10 — Right To Fair Public Hearing
Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.
Article 11 — Right To Be Considered Innocent Until Proven Guilty
(1) Everyone charged with a penal offense has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense.
(2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offense on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offense, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offense was committed.
Article 12 — Freedom From Interference
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
Article 13 — Right To Free Movement
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
Article 14 — Right to Asylum From Prosecution
(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy asylum from persecution in other countries.
(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
Article 15 — Right To A Nationality
(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.
Article 16 — Right To Marriage
(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
Article 17 — Right To Own Property
(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.
Article 18 — Freedom Of Belief
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes the freedom to change religion or belief, and the freedom — either alone or in community with others and in public or private — to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Article 19 — Freedom Of Speech
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Article 20 — Right To Peaceful Assembly and Association
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
(2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.
Article 21 — Right To Participate In Government
(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
(2) Everyone has the right to equal access to public service in his country.
(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.
Article 22 — Right To Social Security
Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.
Article 23 — Right To Desirable Employment
(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
Article 24 — Right To Rest
Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.
Article 25 — Right To Adequate Living Standard
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
Article 26 — Right To Education
(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
Article 27 — Right To Participate in and Enjoy the Culture of One’s Community
(1) Everyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
(2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.
Article 28 — Right To Realization of This Declaration
Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.
Article 29 — Duties To Community
(1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
(2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
(3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
Article 30 — Freedom From Interference in Above Rights
Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.
Key International Human Rights Documents
International Human Rights Charters and Declarations
United Nations Charter
New York City, New York. June 26, 1945.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
United Nations, New York. December 10, 1948
Charters of the Organization of American States
Bogota, Colombia. December 31, 1951
American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man
Bogota, Colombia. May 2, 1948
Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe: Final Act (Helsinki Accord)
Helsinki, Finland. August 1, 1975.
Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief
New York, November 25, 1981
Human Rights Treaties and International Conventions
The United States is at present, or has been, Party to the following multilateral human rights related treaties (listed in date order):
Slavery Convention (or the Convention to Suppress the Slave Trade and Slavery)
Date: September 25, 1926
U.S. Action: Ratified and entered into force, March 2, 1929.
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
Date: December 9, 1948.
U.S. Action: Ratified and entered into force, February 23, 1989.
Inter-American Convention on the Granting of Political Rights to Women
Date: May 2, 1948.
U.S. Action: Ratified and entered into force, May 24, 1976.
Protocol Amending the Slavery Convention
Date: December 7, 1953.
U.S. Action: Ratified and entered into force, March 7, 1956.
Convention on the Political Rights of Women
Date: March 31, 1953
U.S. Action: Ratified and entered into force, July 7, 1976.
Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery
Date: September 7, 1956
U.S. Action: Ratified and entered into force, December 6, 1967.
Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees
Date: January 31, 1967
U.S. Action: Ratified and entered into force, November 1, 1968.
Abolition of Forced Labor Convention
Date: June 25, 1957.
U.S. Action: Ratified tand entered into force, September 25, 1991.
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
Date: December 21, 1965.
U.S. Action: Ratified and entered into force, November 20, 1994.
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Date: December 16, 1966.
U.S. Action: Ratified and entered into force, September 8, 1992.
International Convention against the Taking of Hostages
Date: December 17, 1979.
U.S. Action: Ratified and entered into force, December 7, 1984.
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Date: December 10, 1984.
U.S. Action: Ratified and entered into force, November 20, 1994.
Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict
Date: May 25, 2000
U.S. Action: Ratified and entered into force, January 23, 2003.
Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography
Date: May 25, 2000
U.S. Action: Ratified and entered into force, January 23, 2003.
Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor
Date: June 17, 1999
U.S. Action: Ratified and entered into force, December 2, 1999.
Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (Palermo Protocol)
Date: November 15, 2000
U.S. Action: Ratified and entered into force, November 3, 2005.
The United States has signed but not ratified the following multilateral human rights treaties (listed in date order):
Convention on the Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages
Date: December 10, 1962
U.S. Action: The United States signed the convention, December 10, 1962.
International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights
Date: December 16, 1966
U.S. Action: The United States signed the convention, October 5, 1977.
American Convention on Human Rights
Date: November 22, 1969
U.S. Action: The United States signed the convention, June 1, 1977
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
Date: December 18, 1979
U.S. Action: The United States signed the convention, July 17, 1980.
Convention on the Rights of the Child
Date: November 20, 1989
U.S. Action: The United States signed the convention, February 16, 1995.
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Date: December 13, 2006
U.S. Action: The United States signed the convention, July 30, 2007.