General Information of Human Rights Movement

Human rights inhere in every human being by virtue of being a person. These are what has been traditionally known as “natural rights” i.e., rights bestowed upon human beings by nature. Human rights are based on mankind’s increasing demand for a decent civilized life in which the inherent dignity of each human being is well respected and protected. Human rights are fundamental to our existence without which we cannot live as human beings. The basic human rights might be called “sacrosanct rights” from which no derogation can be permitted in a civilized society. The bare necessities, the minimum and basic requirements are the core of human rights concept. Human rights are universal and cut across all national boundaries and political frontiers.

Definition of Human Rights in the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993

"Human Rights means the rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the International Covenants and enforceable by courts in India." International Covenants have been defined in the Act to mean the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on the 16 December 1966.

The ideas of elaboration and protection of rights of human beings have been gradually transformed into written norms. Many important landmarks may be mentioned on this way, such as, in England- Magna Carta (1215), the Petition of Right (1628) and the Bill of Rights (1689). During the eighteenth century, the early ideas of natural law developed into an acceptance of natural rights as legal rights and these rights for the first time were written into national constitutions, thus reflecting an almost contractual relationship between the State and the individual which emphasized that the power of the State derived from the assent of the free individual. The French declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 and the American Bill of Rights of 1791 were based on this premise. During the nineteenth century this principle was adopted by a number of independent States and social and economic rights also began to be recognized.

The fundamental principle underlying the rights proclaimed in the Declaration is contained in the Preamble to the Declaration, which starts by recognizing the ‘inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family’.

The rights proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be broadly divided into two kinds. The first refer to civil and political rights, which include: the right to life, liberty, and security of person; freedom from slavery and torture; equality before the law; protection against arbitrary arrest, detention or exile; the right to a fair trial; the right to own property; political participation; the right to marriage; the fundamental freedoms of thought, conscience and religion, opinion and expression; freedom of peaceful assembly and association; and the right to take part in the government of his / her country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. The second are economic, social and cultural rights, which relate to, amongst others: the right to work; equal pay for equal work; the right to form and join trade unions; the right to an adequate standard of living; the right to education; and the right to participate freely in cultural life.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 (ICCPR) elaborates the political and civil rights identified in the Universal Declaration, which include the rights to life, privacy, fair trial, freedom of religion, freedom from torture and equality before the law.

Some of the rights can be suspended in times of ‘public emergency which threatens the life of the nation’, provided that the derogation will not involve discrimination on grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion or social origin. If a country wants to ‘opt out’ in this way, it must immediately inform the Secretary-General of the United Nations. In no circumstances, in peace or war, is derogation permitted under the Covenant from the following fundamental rights: the rights to life, recognition before the law, freedom from torture and slavery, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the right not to be imprisoned solely for inability to fulfill a contractual obligation, and the right not to be held guilty for committing a crime which did not constitute a criminal offence at the time it was committed.

Article 28 of the Covenant provides for the establishment of a Human Rights Committee consisting of eighteen independent experts, nominated and elected by States Parties to the Covenant, who serve in their personal capacities, which means that they are not acting on behalf of their State. The Human Rights Committee monitors the implementation of the Covenant in a number of ways.

The Committee examines periodic reports from states Parties to the Covenant on their compliance (Article 40). Such a report must be submitted by each State within one year of becoming party to the Covenant, and thereafter whenever the Committee so determines. The reports are examined in public and in the presence of the representative of the State concerned, who may be questioned. On completion of each State report, the Committee issues concluding observations which reflect the main points of discussion, as well as suggestions and recommendations to the Government concerned on ways in which the Covenant could be better implemented.

The Committee can consider complaints of one State against another, provided that both have made a special declaration recognizing this role of the Committee under Article 41.

The Human Rights Committee also interprets the content and meaning of specific articles of the Covenant in its ‘General Comments’. These establish the jurisprudence of the Covenant and thus guide the States Parties in their adherence to their obligations under the Covenant and in the preparation of State reports.

The Committee reports annually on its work to the United Nations General Assembly through the Economic and Social Council(ECOSOC).

Under the provisions of the Original Protocol to the ICCPR, the Committee can receive complaints from individuals alleging violations of their rights under the Covenant, provided that the State concerned has ratified the Optional Protocol. Complaints are made by submitting written communications to the Committee. Representation may also be made by another person on behalf of a victim when the victim is not able personally to appeal to the Committee.

There are a large number of conventions, declarations and recommendations adopted by the General Assembly and other legislative bodies of the United Nations system which elaborate in more detail the rights set out in the Universal Declaration and the International Covenants, and which also affirm certain rights not specified in the International Bill of Human Rights. The important amongst them are:

  • - Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 1948
  • - Convention on Status of Refugees, 1951
  • - Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 1969
  • - Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979
  • - Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989
  • - Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989

The High Commissioner for Human Rights is the United Nations official with principal responsibility for human rights activities, with the mandate to promote and protect the effective enjoyment of all human rights including, specifically, the right to development.

Among the High Commissioner’s responsibilities are coordinating human rights promotion and protection activities throughout the United Nations system; providing advisory services and technical and financial assistance through the Centre for Human Rights; rationalization, adoption, strengthening and streamlining of the United Nations human rights machinery with a view to improving its efficiency and effectiveness; engaging in dialogue with all governments with a view to securing respect for all human rights; and playing an active role in preventing the continuation of human rights violations throughout the world.

The main functions of the Centre for Human Rights are to assist United Nations organs and bodies in the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms as envisaged by the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human rights and the International Covenants on Human Rights and in resolutions of the General Assembly.

Since the establishment of the post of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the supervision of the Centre has been entrusted to him in order to co-ordinate the promotion and protection of human rights activities throughout the United Nations system.

The Centre provides secretarial and substantive services to United Nations organs and bodies concerned with human rights, including the General assembly, the Economic and Social Council, the Commission on Human Rights, the Sub-commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the Human Rights Committee, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Committee against Torture.

The Centre also carries out research and studies on human rights and prepares reports on their implementation. In addition, it co-ordinates liaison with non-governmental and other organizations active in the filed of human rights as well as with the media. Furthermore, it disseminates information and prepares publications related to human rights.

In 1985 the General Assembly formally established a Programme of Advisory Services in the field of human rights to be coordinated by the United Nations Centre for Human Rights. Its main functions were to provide, at the request of governments, the services of experts, fellowships, scholarships, seminars and training courses in human rights. A Voluntary Fund for technical co-operation in this field was established in 1987 to meet the budgetary requirements of a substantially expanded programme.

A new comprehensive country programme is now in operation. Based on the assessment of the human rights needs of a country, an integrated technical assistance programme is elaborated with the aim of strengthening a legal and institutional framework that can promote and sustain human rights and democracy under the rule of law.

Within this context, experts are provided to assist in the drafting of national constitutions which made provision for: the inclusion of human rights norms and the independence of the judiciary; advice on mechanisms to secure democratic order, including electoral assistance; and the training of judges, law-enforcement personnel, public officials and the armed forces, with particular reference to international human rights standards.

The programme also has components relating to human rights education, strengthening the mass media in the promotion of human rights, and conflict resolution. The latter focuses on conflict prevention and techniques for their peaceful resolution, which include the training of United Nations peace-keepers and the establishment of field offices of the Centre of Human Rights. The High Commissioner for Human Rights pays great attention to technical co-operation.

The programme recognizes the crucial role of non-governmental organizations and other community groups in building civil society, and provides direct support for their projects.

There are two United Nations Specialized Agencies within which such procedures have been established: the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO).

There are three regional organizations which maintain permanent institutions for the protection of human rights: the Council of Europe, the Organization of African Unity and the Organization of American States. All of them have initiated instruments on human rights which have been inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The role of NGOs in the promotion of human rights at international, regional and national levels is widely recognized and endorsed by the international community. NGOs contribute significantly to the United Nations human rights programme. They serve as a unique source of information; assist in the identification and drafting of new international standards; seek to obtain redress for victims of human rights abuses; and play an important role in promo-ting human rights education, particularly at the non-formal level.

There are numerous NGOs, international and national, which are very active in the field of human rights. One of the most famous is Amnesty International, founded in 1961. Since that time the organization’s logo – a burning candle wrapped in barbed wire – has become world-famous. Amnesty International was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 for its tireless activities in the protection of freedom of speech, religion and belief, for the release of political prisoners, and in the fight against torture and discrimination.

The World Conference on Human Rights (1993) recognized the important role of non-governmental organizations in the promotion of all human rights and in humanitarian activities at national, regional and international levels. The Conference appreciated their contribution to increasing public awareness on human rights issues, to the conduct of education, training and research in this field, and to the promotion and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms. The World Conference on Human Rights also emphasized the importance of continued dialogue and co-operation between governments and non-governmental organizations, and stressed that non-governmental organization and their members genuinely involved in the field of human rights should enjoy the rights and freedoms recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the protection of national law.

In view of the importance of information about human rights, the United Nations General Assembly adopted several resolutions. On 10 December 1988, a United Nations World Public Information Campaign for Human Rights was launched by General Assembly Resolution 43/128. The aim of this campaign was to develop programmes of teaching, education and information in the field on human rights in a global and practically oriented fashion. Major types of action features in the campaign include the production and dissemination of printed material on human rights, the organization of workshops and seminars, the granting of fellowships and the creation of national human rights institutions. Special attention was also paid to the media in order to increase public awareness of human rights.

The need for clear and accessible information on human rights, tailored to regional and national requirements and disseminated by national and local languages, was acknowledged by the General Assembly. Member States were urged to include in their education curricula materials relevant to a comprehensive understanding of human rights issues, and all those responsible for training law-enforcement officials, members of the armed forces, medical personnel, diplomats, etc., were encouraged to include appropriate human rights components in their programmes.

Every two years the Secretary-General presents a report on the campaign activities and resolutions confirming its aims were adopted by the General Assembly in 1992 (45/99), 1992 (47/128) and 1994 (49/187).

The United Nations Centre for Human Rights co-ordinates the activities of the world campaign within the United Nation system and also liaises with governments, regional and national institutions and interested individuals in the development and implementation of various human rights activities.

In March 1993, UNESCO and the United Nations Centre for Human Rights, in collaboration with the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, held an International Congress on Education for Human Rights and democracy in Montreal, Canada. The World Plan of Action on education for Human Rights and Democracy, adopted by the Congress, stresses that education for democracy is an integral aspect of education for human rights, and notes that ‘education for human rights and democracy is itself a human right and a prerequisite for the realization of human rights, democracy and social justice’. The Plan outlines the means by which education for human rights and democracy could be made effective and comprehensive, worldwide. The main lines of action identified in the Plan include the identification of target groups, the development of appropriate curricula, research into education for human rights and democracy, the revision of school textbooks with the aim of eliminating stereotypes, the building of networks among educators, increasing resources for education for human rights and democracy, and the design of cost-effective and sustainable educational programmes. The plan also identifies the obstacles to be overcome in the field of human rights education. The Advisory Committee on Education for Peace, Human Rights and Democracy established in December 1994 and composed of twelve high-level experts representing all regions of the world, is invited to present recommendations for the implementation of UNESCO instruments and to encourage activities aimed at promoting education for human rights, democracy and peace at national, regional and universal levels.

The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (1993), taking account of the World Plan on Education for Human Rights and democracy, encourages States to strive to eradicate illiteracy, to include human rights, humanitarian law, democracy and the rule of law in all formal and non-formal educational curricula, and to develop programmes for ensuring the wide dissemination of public information, taking particular account of the human rights needs of women. Human rights education is an integral part of certain United Nations peace-building operations, e.g. in EI Salvador and Cambodia.

By Resolution 1994/51, the Commission on Human Rights requested that the General Assembly proclaim a ten-year period starting from 1 January 1995 as a decade for human rights education. By its Resolution 49/184, adopted on 21 December 1994, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the ten-year period beginning on 1 January 1995 the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education.

The objectives of the Decade (1995-2004) have been spelled out in the Plan of Action. They include:

  1. The assessment of needs and the formulation of effective strategies for the furtherance of human right education at all school levels, in vocational training and formal as well as non-formal learning.
  2. The building and strengthening of programmes and capacities for human rights education at the international, regional, national and local levels.
  3. The coordinated development of human rights education materials.
  4. The strengthening of the role and capacity of the mass media in the furtherance of human rights education.
  5. The global dissemination of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the maximum possible number of languages and in other forms appropriate for various levels of literacy and for the disabled.

The General Assembly appealed to all governments’ to contribute to the implementation of the