The concept of human rights was formalized in the Universal Declaration of Human RIghts, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948. Recent atrocities committed during World War II prompted the need for this resolution.
Fundamental to this declaration is the assertion that, ‘all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,’ Article 1. Furthermore, Article 3 affirms that, ‘Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.’
Upholding these rights can be viewed in different ways, and debate exists as to whether there should be positive rights as well as negative rights. Negative rights involve the principle of non-aggression and infer a duty not to interfere or cause harm to others. This idea is vital to the peaceful functioning of society. Conversely, positive rights imply an entitlement to benefit from the actions of others, which can be seen as encroaching on other individuals’ negative rights.
Respecting human rights
Respecting human rights is crucial to having a free, peaceful and prosperous society. In order to achieve this, it is necessary to value individual rights in many key areas.
Firstly, the right to be spared from the initiation of violence is of paramount importance, as is the right to self-defense when the former right of non-violence has not been respected. All other rights derive from this principle.
Following on from this, it is clear that upholding property rights is another cornerstone of a free society, where people can prosper in security. Knowing that forcible dispossession of property is unlikely, incentivizes labor for material gains and allows for economic growth and innovation. Voluntary transactions between individuals should not be arbitrarily impeded in any way.
Freedom of expression is another right which is indispensable for individual liberty and an open marketplace of ideas, where no one is persecuted because of their opinions. Journalists should be able to freely and diligently exercise their profession without fear of repercussion. A free society cannot exist without freedom of speech.
Individuals must have the right to flee from areas of conflict, ensuring their personal safety. Bringing this concept to its logical conclusion, peaceful people should not be prevented from migrating to find better life opportunities.
People accused of a crime should not be arbitrarily detained without due process. Individuals have the right to be considered innocent until they are proven guilty in a fair trial.
Violations and accountability
While everyone must assume individual responsibility for their actions, throughout history, governments have been the most prolific serial violators of human rights.
Imperialism has been responsible for countless atrocities against subjugated people. Dispossession of land and resources was widespread. In several instances, the violations amounted to genocide. Such cases include the treatment of the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas by European colonists and the decimation of the Herero people in former German South West Africa, present day Namibia.
War should never be accepted as a valid excuse for violating human rights. It is important that anyone involved in war crimes is brought to justice. This applies to World War II, but also more recently to conflicts in the Balkans, Africa, and the Middle East.
It is extremely important that the international community are alert to any human rights violations and are united and proactive in their condemnation.
Why human rights matter to SFL
At Students For Liberty, we believe that the upholding of human rights should always be a priority. Human rights form the basis of the fundamental principles and ideas of liberty, and as such, are of paramount importance in promoting a peaceful and free society.