Human Rights and the Law
Today, human rights are believed to be universal, or due to everyone regardless of age, race, sex, religion, location, or any other factor. This means that around the world it is agreed that by virtue of being human, every human being is due the rights to, among other things, life, free speech, freedom of religion/worship, freedom from torture or inhumane treatment, education and work, an adequate standard of living and housing, fair trials and the ability to participate in social, cultural and political activities. These rights are enshrined in a variety of international treaties which form the basis of international human rights law, and both national and international courts exist to interpret cases relating to these laws.
Human Rights and International TreatiesHuman rights are protected by a variety of international. The foundation of most international human rights law is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which was passed unanimously by the United Nations in December, 1948. This document was reaffirmed, again unanimously, at the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights in 1993. In addition to the UDHR, the United Nations also works a treaty system on human rights which includes seven other treaties: the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (1969), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1976), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1976), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1981), the Convention Against Torture, and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1987), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990), and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (2003). In Europe, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was adopted by the Council of Europe in 1950.
Human Rights and National LawsMost countries also have specific laws which protect the human rights of its citizens or indeed any person resident in that country. Usually these laws also guide the country's foreign policy, or the way in which the country relates to others.
In the United Kingdom, the Human Rights Act of 1998 was adopted to reinforce the UK's commitment to human rights and is in force in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The Scotland Act 1998 guarantees that the Scottish Executive and Scottish Parliament can not do anything contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office also maintains that human rights lie at the very heart of UK foreign policy and that the government actively tries to promote freedom, justice and the opportunity to thrive both at home and abroad.
Human Rights and the CourtsIn countries which have specific human rights legislation, supposed breaches of this legislation can be taken to the national courts as stipulated in the country's own laws. In the United Kingdom, for example, the Human Rights Act of 1998 makes it possible for cases concerning human rights to be heard in the UK.
Larger courts dedicated to only human rights issues also exist. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, for example, hears cases from countries which ratified the European Convention on Human Rights. The International Criminal Court, which is governed by the Rome Statute signed by 105 countries, also exists as a court of last resort to try those accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The International Criminal Court will not, however, hear cases that are being or have been investigated and/or prosecuted in an individual country unless it is evident that those proceedings were not sincere and genuine.
Human rights are accepted as universal, and a variety of international treaties form the basis of international human rights law. Specific courts exist to interpret this law, some even reserved for the most heinous allegations of breaches of human rights. Together these treaties, national laws and courts work to enforce and uphold the rights of every human being.