Human Rights 101: What You Need to Know

human rights 101Amnesty International is a human rights organization, fighting injustice and promoting human rights all around the world. But, what exactly are human rights? What is Amnesty International and its members specifically advocating for when they are promoting awareness, writing letters, and collecting signatures for petitions? We’re going to answer those questions, illustrating what human rights are and what everybody ought to know about them.

Human Rights Definition

Human rights are defined as, “the rights that one has simply because one is a human being, are held equally and inalienably by all human beings. They are social and political guarantees necessary to protect individuals from the standard threats to human dignity posed by the modern state and modern markets.”

Source: Donnelly, Jack. International Human Rights. 3rd ed. N.p.: Westview, 2007. Print. Dilemmas in World Politics.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Adopted by the United Nations in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was, and still is, the most authoritative international document on human rights norms and standards. Comprised of a preamble and 30 articles, it outlines over 40 specific human rights that are entitled to every person on this planet. It actually wasn’t until the aftermath of World War II and the creation of the UN in 1945 that human rights became part of the international relations discourse and the concept of universal human rights really solidified. Prior to this, such a concept did not exist, and the closest concept came from the idea of natural rights, proposed by philosophers such as John Locke, Francis Hutcheson, and Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui during the Enlightenment period.

What are Today’s Biggest Human Rights Issues?

There are many answers to this question, as it would all depend on what’s considered big and which issues are thought to require attention or the most attention. In a sense, all human rights issues are big and require attention, since violations are happening everywhere and all the time. For the purposes of this article, we have a list of the biggest human rights issues that Amnesty International USA is targeting. Amnesty International is one of the few global all-encompassing human rights organizations out there. Although they are working on many things, and the issues of each country will differ, here is what our national group or organization is emphasizing (which is by no means an exhaustive list of human rights):

  • Prisoners of Conscience (anyone imprisoned for peacefully exercising his/her human rights)
  • Death Penalty
  • Torture
  • Corporate Accountability
  • Women’s Rights
  • Refugee and Migrant Rights

What Can I Do about Human Rights?

Human rights encompass a lot of issues, so it is very easy for someone to feel as if he/she can’t do anything about it. For human rights as a whole, which would include all of the topics above, and then some, and all sorts of people around the world, one person probably can’t do a lot. However, there are ways one person can make a difference on human rights, and here are just a few ideas (ideas that our chapter does as well as other Amnesty International members)

  • First, narrow your work – You can’t do everything, so pick a few issues. It’s what Amnesty does and it’s what our chapter does. It’s what you need to do as well.
  • Lobby Your Representatives – If there’s legislation coming up regarding your issue, make sure that you talk to your Congressional representatives about it. If there should be legislation or action on an issue that hasn’t come up yet, make sure that your Congressional representatives know that their constituents care about that issue.
  • Build Awareness – Educate people about the issue, whether that’s through blogging, letters to the Editor, events, speaking engagements etc. When the public isn’t aware about the issue and its importance, then it’s very hard to give it traction and credibility. Besides, you never know who might attend your event or read your blog and decide to do something more.

5 thoughts on “Human Rights 101: What You Need to Know

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