Human rights: key concepts and theories

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Key concepts and theories

Issues to be covered
the definition of human rights, the main characteristics of human rights, together with different categorizations of human rights, the origin and evolution of human rights, human rights law, international humanitarian law and refugee law,

international relations theories and human rights,

Issues to be covered
the philosophicalunderpinnings of human rights,
some criticisms of the different categorizations of human rights, current debates such as human rights vs state sovereignty, and human rights vs neoliberalism.

Definition and characteristics
Human rights are the rights that people are entitled to, simply for being humans. Human rights are universal and inalienable. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights spells outthat everyone is entitled to human rights and that no one can be excluded for any reason.

Art 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and
freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” “Nodistinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.”

Human rights need to be codified; this process of codification is constructed by human beings and society. Certain human rightsmight need to be adapted for specific categories of humans. In some circumstances, human beings might be deprived of certain rights.

Characteristics of human rights
Human rights provide moral standards that states should aspire to uphold. Human rights represent “claims that people are entitled to make” and “obligations and responsibilities that all people share” (Blau and Moncada, 2008). Theyare based on two principles: the right to equality and the right to human uniqueness.

Negative vs positive rights
Human rights can be divided into two types: “positive rights” represent entitlements; “negative rights” protect individuals from abusive power. Often, the violation of positive rights is not legally sanctioned, since not complying with these rights can be considered as a simpleomission. The violation of some negative rights can be sanctioned under criminal law, since not complying with these rights involves actively causing harm.

Generations of rights
There are individual and collective human rights.
Human rights can be divided into three generations of rights. The first generation is made up of “civil and political rights”, which provide protection to individualsagainst abuses by the state and/or require that the state provide certain substantive legal and political opportunities.

The second generation is made up of rights related to equality, which have developed mainly during the period of industrialization.

Generations of rights
Second-generation rights are mainly “socioeconomic rights”.
“Socio-economic rights” guarantee individuals sociallyprovided goods and services. The third generation encompasses collective rights, which gained prominence in the second half of the 20th century. They include rights such as indigenous rights, the right to self-determination, the right to sustainable development, and the right to healthy environment.

Interdependence of human rights
Some authors only consider first-generation rights to be “real”human rights.

According to the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action adopted at the World Conference on Human Rights in 1993, “all human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated.”

Origin and evolution of human rights
The basic principles of human rights can be found in many religious and philosophical traditions. Awareness about human rights was first...