04 September 2012 Written by  Demelash Shiferaw and Yonas Tesfa

Nature and Definition of Human Rights

Human rights are a special sort of inalienable moral entitlement. They attach to all persons equally, by virtue of their humanity, irrespective of race, nationality, or membership of any particular social group. Human rights belong to an individual as a consequence of being human. The term came into wide use after World War II, replacing the earlier phrase "natural rights," which had been associated with the Greco-Roman concept of natural law since the end of the Middle Ages. As understood today, human rights refer to a wide variety of values and capabilities reflecting the diversity of human circumstances and history. They are conceived of as universal Universality of human rights is controutrsial, applying to all human beings everywhere, and as fundamental, referring to essential or basic human needs.

The concept of human rights is based on the belief that every human being is entitled to enjoy her/his rights without discrimination. Human rights differ from other rights in two respects. Firstly, they are characterised by being:

  • Inherent in all human beings by virtue of their humanity alone (they do not   have, e.g., to be purchased or to be granted);
  • Inalienable (within qualified legal boundaries); and
  • Equally applicable to all.

 

Secondly, the main duties deriving from human rights fall on states and their authorities or agents, not on individuals. One important implication of these characteristics is that human rights must themselves be protected by law (‘the rule of law’). Furthermore, any disputes about these rights should be submitted for adjudication through a competent, impartial and independent tribunal, applying procedures which ensure full equality and fairness to all the parties, and determining the question in accordance with clear, specific and pre-existing laws, known to the public and openly declared.

 

The idea of basic rights originated from the need to protect the individual against the (arbitrary) use of state power. Attention was therefore initially focused on those rights which oblige governments to refrain from certain actions. Human rights in this category are generally referred to as ‘fundamental freedoms’. As human rights are viewed as a precondition for leading a dignified human existence, they serve as a guide and touchstone for legislation.

 

The specific nature of human rights, as an essential precondition for human development, implies that they can have a bearing on relations both between the individual and the state, and between individuals themselves. The individual-state relationship is known as the ‘vertical effect’ of human rights vertical location has not elaborated to be clear for the students. While the primary purpose of human rights is to establish rules for relations between the individual and the state, several of these rights can also have implications for relations among individuals. This so-called ‘horizontal effect’ implies, among other things, that a government not only has an obligation to refrain from violating human rights, but also has a duty to protect the individual from infringements by other individuals. The right to life thus means that the government must strive to protect people against homicide by their fellow human beings. 

Last modified on Tuesday, 04 September 2012 14:49