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WHAT ARE HUMAN RIGHTS?
Human rights are based on the principle of respect for the individual. Their fundamental assumption is that each person is a moral and rational being who deserves to be treated with dignity. They are called human rights because they are universal. Whereas nations or specialized groups enjoy specific rights that apply only to them, human rights apply to everyone.
When asked to name their rights, many people will list freedom of speech, freedom of religion and perhaps one or two others. There is no question these are important rights, but the full scope of human rights is very broad. They mean choice and opportunity. They mean the freedom to obtain a job, adopt a career, select a partner of one’s choice and raise children. They include the right to travel widely and the right to work gainfully without harassment, abuse and threat of arbitrary dismissal. They even embrace the right to leisure. Ultimately, human rights are the basis of everything people cherish about their way of life. In their absence, lasting happiness is impossible because there is no personal security, no freedom and no opportunity. Thus, all peoples have long recognized the fundamental importance of human rights and have sought to articulate and defend them. Long before the term “human rights” came into existence, men and women struggled, fought and died for these principles.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the world’s premier human rights instrument. Its opening paragraph is a powerful affirmation of the principles that lie at the heart of the modern human rights system: “Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”