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    Protest, Power, and Change: Human Rights Essay

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    That is due a person or claim a person has by virtue of being a human being. The term human rights is relatively recent. It was first used by U. S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a 1941 message to the United States’ Congress in which he propounded four freedoms- – -freedoms of speech and religion, and freedoms from want and fear.

    The idea of human rights is an elaboration of what used to be called natural rights or the rights of man.

    These are a particularly Western idea that grew out of the medieval concern for the rights of specific groups, such as lords, barons, churchmen, kings, guilds, or towns. With the Enlightenment, philosophers began to consider whether people in general had any rights. John Locke in particular argued in his influential second Treatise of Government (1690) that all people have a natural right to freedom, equality, and property.

    He directly influenced the American Declaration of Independence, which almost a century later (1776) declared that “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” During the French Revolution the French National Assembly approved the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (1789), which proclaimed that the goal of political association is the preservation of the natural and inalienable rights of man, of liberty, private property, personal security, and resistance to oppression.

    Such rights were further defined in the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution of the United States, among them the freedom of speech, religion, and assembly. These and other rights have been included in many other constitutions and now are part of an International Bill of Rights. This comprises the 1945 United Nations Charter (Articles 1 and 55), the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted by the UN General Assembly, and the two international covenants passed by the General Assembly in 1966, one on Civil and Political Rights (CPR) and the other on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ESCR). There is now a UN Human Rights Commission that can investigate alleged violations of human rights and also receive and consider individual complaints, a momentous advance for human rights in the state-centered international system. And there is the Helsinki process that began with the Helsinki Accord of 1975, with its Basket Three on human rights and periodic meetings to assess the progress of human rights among the signatories.

    In addition, human rights have been pursued in several regions.

    To mention just some of this activity, the Council of Europe adopted the European Convention on Human Rights and Europe now has the European Court of Human Rights and the European Commission on Human Rights. The Organization of American States also adopted the American Declaration on Human Rights, and further the American states have created the Inter-American Convention and Court on Human Rights. And due to the Organization for African Unity there is now the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights. Moreover, there have been numerous formal conferences among states and interested international government organizations on human rights, such as the World Conference on Human Rights among 183 nations in Vienna during June 1993.

    Human rights have also been the concern of numerous private organizations that have sought to further define and extend human rights (such as to a clean environment), observe their implementation among governments, publicize violations by governments (as of the right against torture and summary execution), or pressure governments to cease their violations. Some of the many such organizations include the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Anti-Slavery Society, Amnesty International, the International League for Human Rights, and the International Commission of Jurists.

    In sum, human rights now are very much a part of international relations and law. They define fundamental moral canons for criticizing international and national conditions and behavior. As such they are imbedded in the practice of nations and treaty prescriptions. Many states now even include human rights monitors or representatives within their foreign ministries. For example, the United States Department of State has a Bureau of Human .

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