Human rights are fundamental rights that all people have regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, national or ethnic origin, colour, residence, religion, or any other status. These rights cannot be earned or taken away; however, they can be suppressed or violated by individuals, nations, or governments. While there are numerous national and international laws in place to protect human rights, everyone has an affirmative obligation to promote and protect these rights. Individuals can advocate for human rights on a local level by attending activist events, or on a professional level by becoming a human rights lawyer or working for a human rights organisation.
Part 1 Identifying Human Rights
1. Recognize civil liberties. The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948, which is a list of human rights that all people have. Members of the United Nations vowed to protect and promote these rights. The UDHR contains the greatest concentration of rights that can be classified as “civil rights,” which are rights related to one’s physical integrity and legal protection. The first 18 tenets of the UDHR establish civil rights for individuals, including the right to equality and the right to life, liberty, and personal security.
Freedom from discrimination, slavery, torture, and inhuman or degrading treatment.
The right to be recognised as a person before the law and to be treated equally under the law.
The right to seek redress from a competent tribunal as well as the right to a fair public hearing.
Freedom from arbitrary detention and exile, as well as interference with one’s privacy, family, home, and correspondence.
The ability to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The right to freely travel within and outside one’s own country, as well as the right to seek asylum from persecution in other countries.
The right to a nationality as well as the ability to change it.
The right to marry and have a family, as well as the right to own property.
Religious and belief freedom
2. Determine your political rights. Political human rights include those relating to a person’s participation in government and freedom from governmental intrusion. These rights are enshrined in Articles 19–21 of the UDHR and include the freedom of expression and the right to information.
The right to peaceful assembly and association.
The right to vote in free elections, the right to participate in government, and the right to equal access to public service in his or her country.
3. Recognize and protect economic and social rights. These rights establish the conditions for individuals to prosper and have a decent standard of living. Economic and social rights are outlined in Articles 22 to 26 of the UDHR, and they include:
The right to social security is a fundamental human right.
The ability to engage in desirable work and to join trade unions.
The right to rest and leisure, as well as an adequate standard of living for one’s health and well-being.
The right to free education during the elementary and fundamental stages of development.
4. Be mindful of cultural rights. Cultural rights are outlined in Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These rights include the right to participate in the community’s cultural life as well as the protection of a person’s moral and material interest in his or her own scientific, literary, or artistic production.
Part 2 Protecting and Promoting Human Rights in your Personal Life
1. Accept the responsibility of defending and promoting human rights. Human rights protection and promotion are not limited to the United Nations or governments. Everyone has an affirmative duty to contribute to the creation of an environment in which human rights are promoted and respected.
2. Discover more about human rights. You can learn about human rights, human rights violations, and anti-human-rights activism in a variety of ways.
Take a human rights course at a local college. Depending on the course you choose, you may learn about human rights and the law, how rights are monitored and protected, and how to respond to human rights violations.
There are several free online human rights courses available. Some of these courses can be found at: https://www.humanrightscareers.com/courses/.
3. Participate in human rights activism on a local level. Not everyone has the ability to advocate for human rights on a global or national scale. Individuals can, however, do a lot to promote and support human rights on a local level.
Participate in a local event hosted by human rights organisations such as Amnesty International. Participating in a local event to protest a human rights violation, such as the death penalty, is part of a larger collective action against injustice. Amnesty International’s website, http://www.amnestyusa.org/get-involved/, lists local events.
Sign or start a petition about human rights issues. You may be passionate about providing adequate housing for all or providing food for poor children, and there are likely others who share your enthusiasm. You are actively promoting and protecting human rights by creating a petition to support local, state, or national legislation. At http://www.amnestyusa.org/get-involved/take-action-now, Amnesty International has a number of human rights-related petitions.
Support politicians who have shown a commitment to human rights issues.
4. Compile a list of human rights violations. If you witness a violation of any of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (discussed above), you can report it to organisations dedicated to protecting and preserving human rights for all. You must be able to document and provide the following information in order to file a complaint about human rights violations:
Determine which specific article of the UDHR was violated.
Set out all of the facts about the human rights violation in detail, and if possible, in chronological order.
Include the date, time, and location of the incident(s); the name and position of the perpetrator(s); the location of detention, if applicable; the names and addresses of any witnesses; and any other pertinent information.
5. Local human rights violations should be reported to a reputable organisation. After documenting local human rights violations, you should report them to a reputable organisation dedicated to the protection and preservation of human rights. Even if the perpetrators are not criminally prosecuted, reporting violations allows these organisations to bring the abuses to light and, hopefully, pressure the perpetrators to change their behaviour. Human rights violations can be reported to Amnesty International at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/about-us/contact/.
Human Rights Action Center’s website can be found at: http://www.humanrightsactioncenter.org/about/.
Human Rights Watch can be reached at https://www.hrw.org/contact.
Children’s Defense Fund can be reached at http://www.childrensdefense.org/contact/.
Additional organisations can be found at http://www.humanrights.com/voices-for-human-rights/human-rights-organizations/non-governmental.html.
6. Notify the United Nations of serious human rights violations. If you are a witness to serious human rights violations, particularly atrocities committed by your government, and are unsure where to turn, you can report these violations directly to the United Nations Sub-Commission on Human Rights. You must file a written complaint that includes your name or the name of the organisation filing the complaint, as well as a clear statement about whether you want to remain anonymous.
A consistent pattern of significant and documented human rights violations must be stated and discovered in the complaint.
You must identify both the victims and perpetrators of human rights violations and provide a detailed description of the violations.
Include evidence such as a victim’s statement, medical reports, or any other information that can back up your claim.
Clearly state which rights were violated as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Explain why you want the UN to intervene.
Demonstrate that you have exhausted all other options.
Send your complaint to the Commission/Sub-Commission Team (1503 Procedure), Support Services Branch, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations Office in Geneva, 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland.
Complaints can also be faxed to + 41 22 9179011 or emailed to CP(at)ohchr.org.
Part 3 Protecting Human Rights in your Professional Life
1. Consider a career as a human rights attorney. Human rights are primarily guaranteed and protected through national and international law. As a result, becoming a human rights attorney is a very direct way to professionally protect human rights around the world or in your own country. Human rights lawyers file lawsuits on behalf of victims of human rights violations and against state actors or governments who violate national and international law.
2. Participate in a fellowship for human rights. If you are unsure of how to best apply your skills in support of human rights, consider participating in the United Nations’ human rights fellowship programme. These programmes are offered all over the world and give those who are chosen an intensive introduction to and understanding of human rights mechanisms and international institutions. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has four fellowship programmes:
The Indigenous Fellowship Program, which provides human rights training to members of indigenous groups.
The Minorities Fellowship Program is for people who are members of national, ethnic, religious, or linguistic minorities and want to learn about human rights.
The Human Rights LDC Fellowship Program is designed for graduate students from the world’s least developed countries who want to learn about the United Nations and human rights.
The Fellowship for National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) Staff provides NHRI staff with training on international human rights and OHCHR’s work with NHRIs.
http://www.ohchr.org/EN/AboutUs/CivilSociety/Documents/Handbook en.pdf contains application information and instructions.
3. Volunteer with a human rights organisation. There are a plethora of organisations dedicated to promoting and defending human rights. These organisations employ a wide range of personnel, including activists, administrative assistants, and those involved in campaigns, policy positions, and lobbying. If you want to work in human rights, try to get internships and volunteer as much as possible to get a better sense of the work that these organisations do and whether you are truly interested in it.
Reading about human rights and considering how you can help the movement.
Studying or interning in another country while in college and learning another language.
Learning how to write grants, fundraise, research, and write, all of which are required skills for working in a non-governmental organisation (NGO).
A list of human rights organisations, along with contact information, can be found at: http://www.humanrights.com/voices-for-human-rights/human-rights-organizations/non-governmental.html.
4. Make a career as a political leader who is committed to human rights. The primary responsibility for protecting and promoting human rights rests with governments. They must pass laws that establish and protect all citizens’ human rights, and they must actively refrain from infringing on those rights. If you are interested in politics, you should think about becoming a legislator. You will be able to introduce human rights legislation, advocate for your position, and ultimately support laws that protect human rights in this role.
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