Universal Human Rights

Universalism - Are there ideas that apply to everyone in the world?

Cultural Relativism - An individual human's belief and activities should be understood by others in terms of that individual's own culture

Do human rights declarations reflect equal rights for all humans or are they out of date?

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Universal Declaration of Human Rights


  • Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world.
  • Declaration proclaimed by United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10th December 1948.
  • Some who voted in favour are Australia, China, Egypt, Afghanistan, France, Iceland, UK, USA.
  • Represents first agreement between nations of specific rights and freedoms. Civil and Political Rights eg. Right not to be subjected to torture, Equality before the law, Fair trial, Opinion and Expression, Social Security etc.
  • Originally intended as a 'common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations'.
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Criticism of the UDHR

  • Some would argue that not all rights included are universal eg. What is considered to be an important human right may depend on the culture
  • Our perception of 'rights' has changed throughout history depending on society. eg. Rights relating to gender and sexuality were very different 100 years ago, Therefore is potentially outdated.
  • Many of the countries who signed up continue to abuse some of the rightd eg. Amnesty International estimates that torture occurs in over 150 Countries.
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European Convention on Human Rights

  • Signed in Rome on November 4th 1950, came into force in 1953
  • Guaranteed basic civil and political rights of their citizens and all people within their authority.
  • States of individuals can bring a complaint before the European Court of HR set up by the convention

Some rights include:

  • Right to life
  • Right to fair trial
  • Right to freedom of expression
  • Right to education
  • Right to free electinos

Some thing Prohibited:

  • Torture and inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment
  • Slaver, servitude and forced labour
  • Discrimination in the enjoyment of rights and freedoms guaranteed
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Human Rights Act 1998

  • Right to life
  • Right to education
  • Right to peaceful enjoyment of your property
  • Right to not be subjected to the death penalty
  • Right to respect for private and family life etc.

If any of these rights and freedoms are breached, you have a right to an effective solution in law, even if the breach was by someone in authority, such as, for example, a police officer.

Now been incorporated into British law, if a citizen has their rights infringed by a public body, they can now bring a civil action in the UK courts. Supreme Court = highest civil court and will hear majority of cases

Means it will be quicker, cheaper and will mean claimants will recieve damages if they win

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European Court of Human Rights

If all a case has gone through the Civil Courts in the Uk (including the highest court = supreme court) and claimants are still not happy they can take their case to the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

This happened in 2002 when judges had the opportunity to say whether British Courts had correctly head a case by Diane Pretty who wanted to know if her husband was able to aid her suicide. The ECHR found the British Courts decision was correct

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Informal Pressure on HR

  • Media - Attract attention of the media which in turn generates a bad name for the people/organisation who is breaching human rights eg. Nike and the documentary made on their sweat shops
  • Pressure Groups - Able to put force to a campaign which may increase the likelihood of events taking the correct course. Amnesty International - called for government in Chad to compensate those citizen's homes they destroyed
  • Charities - Seek redress through charities. Help the people most affected through breaches of human rights and help gain exposure for people. e.g. in forced eviction of Roma families. Amnesty in Italy raised money for the families to try and help with the living costs of the families as a type of compensation
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How are Human Rights protected in the UK?

  • Recently been much coverage in the new about prisoners gaining the right to vote in the UK - resuuukt of ECHR ruling than banning prisoners from voting was a breach of their human rights.
  • UK government faces massive fines from the cour if they do not follow the ruling however many including the PM disagree with giving them the right to vote.
  • Lead to government considering created UK Bill of Rights in place of the current human rights act to give the UK gov more power when it comes to implementing laws surrounding human rights issues.
  • Ruling from ECHR to give people the right to appeal to have their name removed from the sex offenders register after a period of time.


Soering vs the UK (June 1989) - Case involving man who was extradited to US to face charges of murder - crime punishable by death penalty there. Court said to send him back was the prohibition of torture

Abu Qatada

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Protecting Specific Groups in Society

Minorities - These are protected:

  • At UN level by a declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National of Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities adopted in 1992
  • At European level - Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities

Children: Their main protection is given at UN level with the Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1990

Refugees: by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees

Women: To promote equality, the rights of women are specifically protected by the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

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Role of the media and NGO's

Impact of Media and NGO campaigns which have lead to some of the above changes in human rights protecttion for certain groups of people:

  • Amnesty International - campaign for human rights on an international level - particularly for women's rights
  • Liberty - Major human rights pressure group involved in UK campaigns to protect the rights of young people
  • Lesbian and Gay Foundation - 'enough is enough' campaign to stop homophobia

People like Keira Knightly have been in Amnesty International campaigns  to get people to join their cause

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Human Rights Abuse - Genocide and War Crimes

Definition of War Crimes: 'Wilfull killing, torture or inhuman treatment causing great suffering to body or health... taking of hostages and extensive destruction anf of property, not justified by military necessity and carried unlawfully'.

2001 - Made mass systematic **** and sexual enslavement in a time of war a crime.

Genocide: 'Acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethinical, racial or religious group.

eg. Saddam Hussein - Charge for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. November 5th 2006 Saddam was sentenced to death by hanging

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The International Criminal Court

  • Brings individuals to trial who commit large-scale political crimes - genocide, war crimes etc.
  • Since its establishment in 2002, the court has made good strides forward in holding the perpetrators of the most serious crimes accountable.
  • The US however is still not a memeber and the ICC has faced fierce US opposition.
  • Obama has so far made greater efforts to engage with the Court


Uganda - ICC issued 5 arrest warrants for top officers of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) including its leader Joseph Kony. ICC was criticised for lack of impartiality as no arrest warrants were issued against the Ugandan armed forces

Democratic Republic of Congo - ICC initiated investigations into war crimes of the DRC. They terrorized civilians. The ICC prosecutor issued 4 arrset warrants which lead to the arrest of 3 militia leaders. Ongoing acts of violence in the DRC make ICC investigations extreamely difficult.

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International Criminal Tribunal

  • The ICTY for the former Yugoslavia is a United Nations court of law dealing with war crimes that took place during the conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s
  • The tribunal has laid the foundations for what is now the accepted norm for conflict resolution and post-conflict development across the globe, specifically that leaders suspected of mass crimes will face justice.
  • The ICTY was the first war crimes court created by the UN
  • Objective = try those individuals most responsible for appaling acts such as murder, torture, ****, enslavement etc.
  • Aims to deter future crimes and render justic to thousands of victims and their families contributing to lasting peace in Yugoslavia
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Human Rights Abuse Cases


  • Egyptian military urge to halt torture of deainees (17th Feb 2011)
  • Amnesty International urged Egyptian Military to take action to stop use of torture and other ill treatment of detainees.
  • Included whipping and electric shocks to obtain information about plans for the protests
  • On 12th February the Supreme Military Council announced Egypt would abide by its international treaties. Egypt has been a party to the Convention Against Torture and Other curel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment since 1987
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Human Rights Abuse Cases


  • Tunisian MP Mohammed Ghannouchi resigns over protests (27 Feb 2011)
  • He had served under the country's old dictatorship and until he went their revolution was unfinished.
  • Tunis police fired tear gas and warning shots to disperse the latest demonstration calling for a new government and a new constitution
  • On Friday and Saturday, anti government protestors held huge rallies calling for Mr Ghannouchi's (new president) resignation
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Human Rights Abuse Cases


  • Libya suspended from UN Human Rights Council
  • Results of their continuing attacks on pro-democracy protestors there by Muammar Qadhafi's regime.
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Bringing about change

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