What are Human Rights?

A right is something that one or more people are entitled to do, or to be, or to have. For example if you rent a house you become a tenant and then you have the right to live in the house and have it as your home.

A simple way of explaining the meaning of the words human right is to say that, a human right is something that humans in general agree that all humans are entitled to be, or to do, or to have. For example, it is generally agreed that all humans have the right to live, and to live in freedom and safety - free and safe in one’s own home or while moving or traveling around.

Many people consider that human rights are not created, for they already exist. These rights come with being a human being and are derived from the very nature of a human being.

The problem is these rights are not always recognized. These rights are essential for a happy life and are the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. For example, it is generally agreed that humans have the right to marry and raise a family, and they have the right to equal treatment by the police or the law courts.

Human rights are constructive. Actions that violate human rights are destructive - they generate upset, civil unrest, strife, misery, injustice, poverty, and war.

Australians and Human Rights Today

The Australian Human Rights Commissioner, Dr. Sev Ozdowski, OAM, spoke of the importance of human rights and how Australians feel about them in his speech, “The Relevance of Human Rights in Contemporary Australia, on the 4th July 2003;

“Australians would, however, generally agree that every person has inherent dignity and value and that human rights help us to recognise and respect the fundamental worth in ourselves and in each other.

We would also agree that human rights are the same for all people everywhere – male and female, young and old, rich and poor, regardless of our background, where we live, what we think or what we believe. This is what makes human rights ‘universal’.

Australians do recognise that human rights are important. They recognise our freedom to make choices about our life and develop our potential as human beings. They ensure that we can live free from fear of harassment or discrimination. We would argue that human rights exist even if governments or other people attempt to deny them.

We possibly also agree that respect for human rights helps build strong communities, based on equality and tolerance, in which every person has an opportunity to contribute. Of course, having others respect our human rights comes with the responsibility that we respect the rights of others.”

Australia has a better record for human rights than many countries but nevertheless has room for a good deal of improvement. You can help by encouraging others to understand human rights and to respect the rights of their fellow men and women.

The Birth of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The growth of totalitarian regimes, the loss of 50 million lives in World War II, and the lessons learned from that vast human tragedy focused the attention of nations on the need for human rights. It was realized that adherence to human rights was fundamental to securing world peace. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, was the first attempt to develop a comprehensive statement of human rights. It was specifically intended to prevent the horrors of history from repeating.

What the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has inspired

That Declaration has, in turn, inspired more than 60 human rights treaties and accords, while providing a framework for the constitution of dozens of nations. It is the very foundation of the modern human rights movement. Yet despite its timeless relevance many Australians and people in other countries have not heard of it or have no idea of its relevance to their lives.

The Need for Committed Action on Human Rights

Good thoughts about human rights are not enough. Increasing violence and threats of terror in our own country and around the world are daily evidence that committed action on human rights is necessary. Events such as the bombing of our embassy in Jakarta, the Bali bombing, the school hostage tragedy in Beslan in Russia, and the 9/11 event in New York are some examples from the long trail through history of the violation of human rights.

Human Rights, an Essential Part of Everyday Life

Eleanor Roosevelt, the Chairperson of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, said;

“Where after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works…Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

Australia’s Involvement in the United Nations Charter

Australia was one of the 51 founding members of the United Nations (UN) and our involvement in the development of the international human rights system dates from this time. We played a central role in the negotiations on the UN’s charter in 1945 to ensure that respect for human rights was placed alongside peace, security and development as the primary objectives of the United Nations.

Australia’s Involvement in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Australia was also a founding member of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which is the main international forum for the promotion and protection of human rights. The Commission, with Australia as one of its 8 members, drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration was presented to the UN General Assembly and adopted on the 10th of December 1948. In the chair as President of the UN General Assembly was an Australian, Dr. H V Evatt, one of the architects of the Declaration and the chief Australian delegate to the UN.